Every tenth of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, an event is commemorated by Muslims. Known as ‘Āshūrā’, this occasion recalls the battle of Karbala in 680 CE/AH 61 that resulted in the defeat and massacre of a small party led by al-Husayn bin ‘Alī, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, by the Umayyad forces. Although the subsequent martyrdom of Husayn precipitated the bifurcation of the then-nascent Muslim umma along Sunni and Shi’a ideological and political lines, the battle still holds special significance for the Islamic world as a whole. Come Muharram each year, the death of Husayn, alongside the earlier death of his brother, Hasan, are marked or mourned. The shape and character of this commemoration varies from region to region, culture to culture, but the most public and visually spectacular activity is the julus or procession – a practice still carried out today in Iraq, Iran, South and Southeast Asia.

A 19th-century scroll painting from India was recently acquired by the Asian Civilisations Museum as part of preparations for a new permanent gallery on Islamic Art. Nearly six metres in length, the painting depicts a Muharram procession with rather unusual scenes as part of the ‘Āshūrā’ commemoration. Using the pictorial narrative of the scroll as a starting point, the talk explored the transmission of the Āshūrā’ commemoration to island Southeast Asia and the visual culture surrounding the procession.

Ms Noorashikin binte Zulkifli

Curator (West Asia), Asian Civilisations Museum,

Noorashikin binte Zulkifli is currently a curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum, looking into art from the Islamic world. Prior to this, she was a curator at the Malay Heritage Centre where she had worked on the 2012 redevelopment of its permanent galleries and initiated the Se-Nusantara exhibition series that highlights the various ethnic groups who make up the local Malay community at- large. Recent exhibitions include MARANTAU: Dima Bumi Dipijak Di Sinan Langik Dijunjuang (2015), Budi Daya (2014), and Yang Menulis | They Who Write (2012–2013). She holds a MA in Interactive Media: Critical Theory & Practice from Goldsmiths College, and previously worked in other curatorial and programming capacities at the NUS Museum and the Singapore Art Museum.

5TH October 2017
Talk by Ms Noorashikin binte Zulkifli,
Curator (West Asia), Asian Civilisations Museum,
National Heritage Board
Q&A Session
End of Programme