Skip directly to main navigation | secondary navigation | main content

History of Art

Cornell University Cornell University Cornell University History of Art and Visual Studies

Kaja M. McGowan

Amazon Cast Danielle Mericle


Detail: Aids for the Deaf

Indonesian Clay Dolls

Tapestry by Pieter van Aelst


Detail: Battle between the conquering Mongols and the Muslim population of Iran


Detail: Beyond the Taj


Detail: Eave hanging (ider-ider) with scenes from Butterfly L

japan detail

Detail: Three Laughers of the Tiger Glen


Detail: Le Ventre Legislatif


Detail: El Regreso del Canibal Macrobiotico


Forgotten Dream


Detail: Moche Panel Fragment with Four Figur

sea gods

Detail: Battle of the Sea Gods

The dream and lies of franco

Detail: The Dream and Lie of Franco


Fields in the Month of June

Previous ImageNext Image

Kaja M. McGowan

Associate Professor

phone: 607-255-7068
room: Goldwin Smith Hall, GM05

Kaja McGowan

Ida Bagus Made

The Ramayana Revisited

Asian Art History in the 21st Century

What's the Use of Art?

Southeast Asia Program at Cornell University


Ph.D., Cornell University

Research Focus

Southeast Asia, Indonesia, gender studies, colonialism, landscape and the human body, material culture.

Research Interests

Kaja M. McGowan’s areas of interest involve South and Southeast Asia with emphasis on Indonesia, particularly Java and Bali (both historically Indic in orientation) studied in relation to the subcontinent. Rather than see India and Indonesia, for example, as modes of influence between two points, her scholarly interests encourage studying the reciprocal relationships between neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. Her research explores the flow of ideas and artifacts along this highway -- architecture, bronzes, textiles, ceramics, performance traditions, and visualizations of texts like Panji Malat, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata -- artifacts that move and those that are locally produced. This accounts for the shaping of ideas and the development of styles across vast geographical and historical distances. Her work is governed by the complex ways in which History of Art and Visual Studies intersect with Anthropology, Material Culture, Colonial and Post-colonial Theory, Performance, Gender and Religious Studies.

Having first begun her study of Balinese performing arts as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, one ongoing project has involved documenting the work of painters in Bali who experiment with depicting musical sound and the rhythmic motion of the dance in their work. She is the author of Ida Bagus Made: Art of Devotion (Ratna Wartha Foundation, 2008) a volume honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the Puri Lukisan Museum in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, distributed by University of Hawaii Press. Due to its popular reception, she has been invited to write a second volume on the life and art of the world-renowned painter, sculptor and architect (undagi), I Gusti Nyoman Lempad.

Recent Courses Taught

ARTH 1134 Performing Objects/Collecting Cultures (Freshman Writing Seminar)
ARTH 2800 Approaches to Asian Art
ARTH 3855 The House and the World: Architectures of Asia
ARTH 3850 The Arts of Southeast Asia
ARTH 4100/6100 Proseminar: Introduction to Methods
ARTH 4107 The Museum and the Object
ARTH 4900 Art and Collecting: East and West
ARTH 4851/6851 Problems in Asian Art
Topics Include:
The Role of Religion in South & Southeast Asian Art
Water: Art and Politics in Southeast Asia
The Subtle Body: The Art of Tantra in South and Southeast Asia
Dancing the Stone: Architecture, Body and Memory
ARTH 4855 Threads of Consequence: Textiles in South and Southeast Asia

Select Publications

“To ‘Step on the Spread Cloth’ Lightly: Mapping Ritual Transformations of and Local Substitutions for Indian Commodity Textiles in Insular Southeast Asia,” in Religion and Culture in the Indian Ocean, 18th Century to the Present, ed. Thomas Gibson (Routledge, forthcoming 2010).

“Sifting Mountains and Rivers Through a Loosely Woven Lens: Reconsidering Royal Progresses in 14th Century Java,” in Companion to Asian Art and Architecture, edited by Rebecca Brown and Deborah Hutton (Wiley Blackwell, forthcoming 2010).

Ida Bagus Made: The Art of Devotion, a volume honoring the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Puri Lukisan Museum, Bali, Indonesia (Yayasan Ratna Wartha, 2008). [Demand for this text has resulted in its distribution with University of Hawaii Press].

“Love, Death and Shifting Patronage in Bali during the 1930s: Two Spatial Models Meet ‘Face to Face’ on Sacred Threads of Sound” in Asian Art in the Twenty-First Century (Clark Studies in the Visual Arts), ed. Vishaka Desai (Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 96-122.

“Raw Ingredients and Deposit Boxes in Balinese Sanctuaries: A Congruence of Obsessions,” in What’s the Use of Art?: Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context (eds.) Morgan Pitelka and Jan Mrasek (University of Hawaii Press, 2007), pp. 238-271.

"Chasing Sita on a Global/Local Interface," in The Ramayana Revisited: Gender, Performance, Iconography and Narrative Design. (ed.) Mandakranta Bose (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Reviewer for The Journal of Asian Studies. Worshiping Siva and Buddha: The Temple Art of East Java by Ann R. Kinney with Marijke Klokke and Lydia Kieven, November Issue, 2004.

"Suaranya Gong Kebyar: The Balinese Art of Ida Bagus Made," a museum catalogue accompanying an exhibition at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (August 18-October 28, 2001), Gilbert Design Associates Inc., Providence RI, 2001, pp. 1-14.

"Maritime Travelers and Tillers of the Soil: Reading the Landscape(s) of Batur," in Studies in Southeast Asian Art: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. O'Connor, ed. Nora Taylor (Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2000), pp. 32-48.

"Weighing the Balance: Southeast Asian Studies Ten Years Later," Wingspread 2, a collaborative text developed from proceedings of two meetings held in New York City, November 15 and December 10, 1999, Southeast Asia program, SSRC (Social Science Research Council) publication, February 2000.

"Cartographies in Collision: Silent Vessels 'Tell in Full' Under the Mango Trees (Reclaiming Ekphrasis in New Groves of Academe)" Southeast Asia Program Bulletin, Summer 2000, pp. 11-21.

"Guardians at the Door: From Letters to Life," Cornell's Arts & Science Newsletter, May 1999.

"Fusing Horizons through Teaching Southeast Asian Art," Southeast Asia Program Bulletin, Fall 1998, pp. 6-7.

"Balancing on Bamboo: Women in Balinese Art," Asian Art and Culture, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Oxford University Press, Winter 1995, pp. 74-95.

Select Conferences and Lectures

Presenter at Puri Lukisan Museum on “The Art and Life of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad,” a paper written in preparation for a forthcoming volume (scheduled for publication in Indonesia in Summer 2011) June 25, 2010.

Presenter for a Gala Event Honoring the Claire Holt Collections at Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts with a talk entitled: “Claire Holt’s Indonesia: Continuities and Change” (December 7, 2009).

Presenter for the Southeast Asia Program Brown-Bag Series, “Sifting Mountains and Rivers Through a Loosely Woven Lens: Repositioning Women in Prapanca’s Royal Progresses in 14th Century East Java,” Kahin Center for Advanced Research in Southeast Asia, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, October 15, 2009.

Presenter of “Sifting Mountains and Seashore Through a Loosely Woven Lens: Reconsidering Royal Progresses in 14th Century Java,” at the World Music Hall, Wesleyan University, March 7, 2009.

Presenter of “To ’Step on the Spread Cloth’ Lightly: Mapping Ritual Transformations of and Local Substitutions for Indian Commodity Textiles in Insular Southeast Asia,” for Religion and Culture in the Indian Ocean, 18th Century to the Present. Cornell University, October 4-5, 2008.

Presenter of Contemporary Ramayana-Related Poetry for An Elegant Evening in celebration of the exhibition “Ramayana in the Arts of India and Southeast Asia,” Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, April 12, 2008.

Presenter for Yale University’s Southeast Asia Program Lecture Series, “’Seeing..As If Through a Sparse Shawl Unravelling’: Ritual Cloth, Commercial Canvas or a Good Opportunity to Show a Nude in Bali Between the Wars (1930-1950)” New Haven, Connecticut, April 9, 2008.

Presenter for the Southeast Asia Program Brown-Bag Series, “Can a Painting Defy Death?: Re-embodying Wayan Karya Through His Work,” Kahin Center for Advanced Research in Southeast Asia, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, March 6, 2008.

Presenter for a Panel entitled “Gender Pluralism and Transgender Practices in Early Modern Times” for Michael Peletz’ Manuscript Workshop (Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia Since Early Modern Times), Kahin Center for Advanced Research on Southeast Asia, February 22-23, 2008.

Presenter for a Book Launch at Cornell Campus Store introducing two edited volumes: What’s the Use of Art?: Essays on Visual Studies and Material Culture (Hawaii University Press, 2007) and Asian Art in the Twenty-First Century: Clark Studies in the Visual Arts (Yale University Press, 2007), Cornell University, February 20, 2008.

Presenter for a conference entitled “Imagining Muslims/ Imagining Others: South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe” at The Kahin Center for Advanced Research in Southeast Asia, Cornell University, September 14-15, 2007.

Presenter for a Johnson Museum Lunchtime Talk and Balinese Dance Demonstration entitled “Viewing the Veins of a Leaf: Treading the Beauty of the Mountain,” Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, November 1, 2007.

Presenter of “Ritual Cloth, Commercial Canvas, or ‘A Good Opportunity to Show a Nude’?: Undressing Balinese Painting in the Politics of Everyday,” for a panel session: “Reception and Perception” in a conference entitled “Asian Art History in the Twenty-First Century” convening in The Asia Society in NYC followed by a two-day event at The Clark Institiute in Williamstown, Mass, April 27-29, 2006.

Presenter for the Saint Johnsbury Athenaeum in connection with the Fairbanks Museum, “A Symbolic Journey for Balinese Painter, Ni Made Suciarmi: Building a Life in Paint,” St. Johnsbury, Vermont, March 24, 2006.

Presenter for a panel entitled Tangible Returns: Bringing the Past into the Present through the Dead and their Things. “Can a Painting Defy Death?: Re-embodying Wayan Karya Through His Work,” AAA (American Anthropology Association), Washington DC, November 23, 2005.

Presenter for the Smithsonian Associates Program with Dr. Robert Pringle in a program entitled “Bali: Indonesia’s Hindu Realm,” Friday May 21 at the Indonesian Embassy and Saturday, May 22, 2004 at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, Smithsonian National Museum, Washington DC.

Presenter at Cotsen’s Library, Princeton University, an afternoon performance and lecture entitled “Balinese Performing Arts: Masks, Transformation and Paradox,” Princeton N.J., May 24, 2003.

Presenter for AAS (Association for Asian Studies) for roundtable/panel entitled "Images of State Power and Authority Expressed through Performance," New York City, March 27-30, 2003.

Presenter for ACSAA (American Council for Southern Asian Art), Symposium X, "Unearthing a Balinese Laocoon: Questioning the Possible Motives Behind Claire Holt's 'Buried Image' in Art In Indonesia (1967)," Walter's Art Museum, Baltimore MD, November 9-11, 2001.

Presenter for the opening of an exhibition I curated, entitled "Suaranya Gong Kebyar: The Balinese Art of Ida Bagus Made," in collaboration with professional performers from STSI, the College for the Performing Arts in Denpasar, Bali, at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, September 7, 2001.

Guest Speaker at the 18th Annual Berkeley Conference on Southeast Asian Studies; the theme, "Mass Political Violence in 20th Century Southeast Asia: Causes, Consequences, and Representations," where I presented a paper, "Cartographies in Collision: Silent Vessels 'Tell in Full' Under the Mango Trees," February 16-18, 2001.

Presenter for the Golay Conference: Teaching, Writing and Civic Action in Southeast Asia, "Building Bridges to Langka: Silent Objects 'Speak Out' on a Global/Local Interface," Cornell University, April 9-12, 2000.

Presenter for Crossroads and Commodification: A Symposium on Southeast Asian Art, with a paper entitled "Bullets over Bali: Commoditizing 'Local Genius' On a Global Battlefield," Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, March 24-26, 2000.

Guest and Contributer to the 1999 SSRC (Social Science Research Council) Wingspread Conference, New York, December 10-11, 1999.

Foreign Languages

Fluent command of Indonesian and Balinese.
Reading knowledge of Dutch, German, French and Norwegian.

Committees and Consulting Activities

On Campus

Einaudi Travel Grant Committee, Spring 2009.
SEAP Publications Editorial Committee, Spring 2009 – Present.
Co-Chair of Committee for NYCAS 2009, (New York Conference on Asian Studies), July 2007- 2010.
Chair, SEAP Bulletin Committee, July 2007-July 2008).
Becker House Fellow, July 2007- Present.
Search Committee for SEAP Outreach Director, Fall Semester 2007.
Agenda Committee, College of Arts and Sciences, July1, 2004 to June 30, 2007.
DGS (Director of Graduate Students) in the History of Art, July 2004 – July 2007.
Visual Studies Committee, 2001 - Present.
Museum Studies Seminar Committee, 2001-Present.
Committee to read and rank undergraduate applications for the class of 2001-2002.
Editorial Advisor for Indonesia (SEAP), Spring 2001, Spring 2002.
Faculty Representative of the Southeast Asia Program and Asian Studies, Fall 1997 - Present.
Member, Luce Committee, Spring 1998 - Spring 2002.
Member, Lauriston Sharp Committee, Fall 1998 - Fall 2000.
Member, SEAP Curriculum Committee, Fall 1999 - Present
Member, Golay Conference Committee, Spring 1998 - Present.
Acting DUS (Director of Undergraduate Students) Fall 1998, Fall 2001.
Faculty Representative on the SEAP Graduate Student Symposium Committee, Fall 1998.

Off Campus

Member of ACSAA (American Committee of Southern Asian Art), Fall 1995 -Present.
Member of AAS (Association for Asian Studies), Fall 1997 - Present.