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Indo-Pacific Art

The Gallery’s Indo-Pacific art collection represents the art of maritime Southeast Asia and includes about 1,900 objects, with strengths in ethnographic sculpture, Javanese gold from the prehistoric to the late medieval period, and Indonesian textiles.
Threshold
Woman's Skirt
Crown Top or Usnisha Cover
Urn with Lotus Petals
Ear Ornament
Large Rattle Pendant

About Indo-Pacific Art

Established in 2009, the Department of Indo-Pacific Art oversees the newest collection at the Yale University Art Gallery and has three areas of strength: ethnographic sculpture, ancient Javanese gold, and Indonesian textiles. The spectacular ethnographic carvings—including ancestral sculpture, ceremonial objects, and architectural components from Indonesia, the Philippines, the aborigines of Taiwan, and mainland Southeast Asia—are a promised gift to the Gallery from Thomas Jaffe, B.A. 1971, who also endowed the department’s curator.

The earliest materials in the department’s holdings are a collection of approximately 500 gold objects—coins, jewelry, statues, and ritual objects—from Central and East Java. Donated to the Gallery by Valerie and Hunter Thompson, these date mainly from the 8th to the 13th century but also include some prehistoric material. The collection also holds about 600 textiles from Indonesia, mainly collected by Robert Holmgren and Anita Spertus. This group is of exceptional quality and ranks among the finest in any museum. The collection includes particularly superb textiles from South Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Borneo, and it includes rare and unique weavings that reflect the history of Indonesian designs.

The permanent-collection galleries, named for Yale professors Robert Farris Thompson and the late George Kubler, display approximately 450 objects. Regional highlights include sculpture and textiles from Sumatra, Borneo, and Eastern Indonesia. A selection of Javanese gold is also on permanent display.

Note from the Curator

This 19th-century ancestor figure is now on view in the Gallery’s exhibition East of the Wallace Line: Monumental Art from Indonesia and New Guinea. The figure is from Cenderawasih Bay in West Papua, Indonesia, and demonstrates the so-called korwar style of carving, characterized by distinctive facial features, including deep-set eyes and an arrow-shaped nose. Korwar figures represent ancestor spirits that are highly venerated but also treated with awe and caution. When British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace first traveled to Cenderawasih Bay in 1858, western New Guinea was considered by Westerners to be remote and isolated. Yet Southeast Asians from as far as Vietnam had accessed the region for up to 2,000 years for a much sought-after luxury: bird-of-paradise feathers. Southeast Asian Dong Son bronze vessels and drums from as early as the third century B.C.E. depict men wearing plumed headdresses with these feathers during processions.

Ruth Barnes

The Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific Art

Ancestor Figure (Korwar), Indonesia, West Papua, Cenderawasih Bay, 19th century. Wood with glass beads. Collection of Thomas Jaffe, B.A. 1971

Meet the Curator

Ruth Barnes

Ruth Barnes is the inaugural Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific Art. She received her doctorate from Oxford University and was previously textile curator at the Ashmolean Museum, where she organized exhibitions on Asian and Islamic textiles, early Indian Ocean trade, and the theme of pilgrimage. Her publications include The Ikat Textiles of Lamalera and Indian Block-Printed Textiles in Egypt: The Newberry Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

ruth.barnes@yale.edu

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Further Reading

Barbier, Jean Paul, and Douglas Newton. Islands and Ancestors: Indigenous Styles of Southeast Asia, exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988.

Barnes, Ruth, and Mary Kahlenberg, eds. Five Centuries of Indonesian Textiles. New York: Prestel, 2010.

Holmgren, Robert J., and Anita E. Spertus. Early Indonesian Textiles from Three Island Cultures, exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.

Miksic, John. Old Javanese Gold: The Hunter Thompson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2011.
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