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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.
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
At the entrance to the Indo-Pacific gallery sits a large, wooden threshold, which once marked the entrance to a ritual house dedicated to a female ancestor of the Ngada people of central Flores, Indonesia. Each of the two panels flanking the narrow opening is decorated with scrolls as well as the body and legs of an animal. The animal’s head would have been carved on a separate board, now lost, that fit onto the panel’s top. This animal figure represents the dragon-serpent, a mythical being believed to protect the community in many Indonesian cultures; on Flores it is often depicted with the features of a snake combined with those of a horse.
Made from a single tree trunk, the monumental threshold features exceptionally fine carving. The interlacing scrolls are further embellished with incised lines, and intricate knotlike designs cover the surface of the animals’ bodies. The wood has been radiocarbon dated to between 1450 and 1650 C.E. If the carving was carried out soon after the tree was felled, the sculpture would date to the 17th century at the latest.
The Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific Art
Meet the Curator
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. She was also curator of three new permanent-collection galleries for the Ashmolean’s reopening in 2009. Her publications include The Ikat Textiles of Lamalera and Indian Block-Printed Textiles in Egypt: The Newberry Collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Her most recent book, Five Centuries of Indonesian Textiles, co-edited with Mary Kahlenberg, received the R. L. Shep Award in 2010.Download CV
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.