Divine Encounters: Sacred Rituals and Ceremonies in Asia. A Talk by Hans Kemp



At first sight, Asia’s rich and enigmatic culture seems to have fallen victim to the headlong pursuit of material wealth and the onslaught of the fast-food lifestyle. But look more closely and cracks in the glossy veneer of progress are appearing. Fissures reveal the remarkable survival of age-old traditions and customs, in spite of, or perhaps more accurately, precisely as a result of the rising tide of globalization and the resulting cultural alienation…

For many people throughout Asia, life’s crucial decisions such as marriage, moving to a new city or the purchase of property, are too important to be left to the rational mind alone. There are other, more ethereal, forces at work. Spirits and deities are ubiquitous, their beneficent or malevolent nature can express itself at any time. As a hedge against future uncertainties these spirits need to be placated, worshipped and feted. And should misfortune strike, a healer or shaman navigates the spirit realms in search of a cure.

Divine Encounters is a photographic odyssey exploring an Asia hiding in plain sight, resilient and vibrant. For just behind the neon signs, the marble and stainless-steel facades, the luxury cars and glitzy shopping malls, lies a different world. A world revealing itself through elaborate spirit rituals, blood-curdling ceremonies and exuberant festivals taking place all over the continent.

Mr Hans Kemp, award-winning Dutch photographer, first arrived in Asia in 1986, the start of an 18-month long journey across the continent that ended with a Trans-Siberian train ride from Beijing back to the Netherlands. Hans soon returned to Asia, guiding groups along the Silk Road and across the Karakoram Highway from Northern Pakistan into China's Xinjiang province and onwards into Tibet.

In the early 1990’s, based in Hong Kong, Hans continued to capture Asia in iconic images published in a wide variety of international magazines and books. He founded Visionary World Publishers in Hong Kong and pioneered the creation of quality postcards of Vietnam, a country where he lived from 1995 till 2008.

Divine Encounters is Hans’ seventh book, adding to a list that includes the iconic Bikes of Burden, an ode to Vietnam’s load carrying motorbikes, a best-seller with over 100,000 copies sold in four languages. Though a long time has passed, Hans' enchantment and fascination with the vicissitudes of Asia has not diminished. Never short on ideas, from his current base Bangkok, he passionately continues to aim his camera at little known corners of this enervating and energizing continent for his next book.

Date: Thursday 21 November 2019
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

Office Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:00am. – 5:00pm.

The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2019-2020 Lecture Series.