Indo-Pacific Art

The Gallery’s Indo-Pacific collection represents the art of maritime Southeast Asia and includes over 26,000 objects, with strengths in ethnographic sculpture, ancient gold, textiles, and puppets.
Crown Top or Usnisha Cover
Funerary Effigy (Tau Tau)
Rattle Pendant
Shoulder Cloth (Limar)
Funeral Mask

About Indo-Pacific Art

Established in 2009, the Department of Indo-Pacific Art oversees the newest collection at the Yale University Art Gallery. It has four areas of strength: ethnographic sculpture, Javanese gold from the prehistoric to late medieval periods, Indonesian textiles, and western Indonesian puppets. The core group of Indonesian textiles was collected by Robert J. Holmgren and Anita E. Spertus. The textiles and 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 of puppets, the largest of its kind in the world, consists of more than 125 complete sets (a total of 20,000 puppets) from Java, Bali, Madura, and Lombok. The collection was amassed by Dr. Walter Angst and donated in 2017 by his brother, Sir Henry Angest. The department holds more than 1,000 textiles from Southeast Asia, 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, as well as 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

A sculpture of a naga, a dragon-snake that serves as a guardian spirit in many Southeast Asian cultures, is currently on view in the museum’s third-floor galleries. The naga is often represented with the features of several animals but always has a reptilian aspect, such as a snake-like body and scales, with a prominent mouth, usually wide open, and visible teeth. This early 20th-century example comes from the eastern Indonesian island of Alor, where it was integrated into village life. Carved wooden images like this one are displayed near temples or ritual dancing places and receive regular offerings of food. Though believed to bring prosperity and health to the community, this spirit also requires respectful attention. If neglected, it will bring illness, bad luck, and a poor harvest.

Watch a children’s story about the dragon-snake in English and Spanish on our YouTube channel.

Ruth Barnes

The Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific Art

Dragon-Snake (Naga), Indonesia, Alor, early 20th century. Wood with pigments. Yale University Art Gallery, Promised gift of Thomas Jaffe, B.A. 1971

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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. 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.

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Half a body shot of Ruth Barnes.

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.