What's New | Sumba and Lampung Masterworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Mamuli | East Sumba | Gift of Jean Paul and Monique Barbier Mueller | 1988.125.2
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

 
 
 

A QUARTET FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

 
 

Masterworks from Sumba and Lampung

 
 
 

Art of the Ancestors welcomes four new extraordinary masterworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These images will be included in our Summer 2019 gallery update.

 
 

Mamuli | East Sumba | Gift of Jean Paul and Monique Barbier Mueller | 1988.125.2
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

Hinggi | Men’s Ikat Mantle | Seymour Fund | 1971.80
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

Tampan | Ceremonial Textile | Lampung, South Sumatra | Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation | 1988.104.29
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

Tampan | Ceremonial Textile | Lampung, South Sumatra | Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation | 1988.104.28
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

 
 

The material in this feature hails from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The first item is a gold mamuli or large Omega shaped ear ornament from East Sumba, that is currently on display. It's of fine weight, countenance and design, and was generously gifted in 1988 by Jean-Paul and Monique Barbier-Mueller. These earrings were formerly considered to be part of a great house's treasures, and they played an important role in the ritual exchanges of the aristocracy.

Three Indonesian textiles are illustrated thanks to the kind efforts and the assistance of Maia Nuku, the Evelyn A.J. Hall & John A Friede Associate Curator of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and Christine Giuntini, the museum's conservator of this material.

The ikat Sumba blanket (hinggi) is an unusual piece that reflects the aristocratic prowess of its' weaver and the man who once shouldered it, as evidenced by the early and refreshing use of emblematic geometric motifs, repeated figures of warriors and pohon andung, an edifice resembling a tree on which the skulls of slain enemies were hung. 

The next piece is a coastal tampan or ritual wrapper and ceremonial cloth from the Pasisir or Paminggir people that depicts two tiers of ships populated by figures, a pair of horses, a ceremonial tree and a central pavilion.  The background is replete with avian and aquatic devices that echo the tripartite order of the universe, where between heaven and earth, important ceremonial endeavors take pride of precedence and place.

The last tampan is also from the Paminggir people of the interior. The central motif represents a horned mythical animal on a boat or float of conveyance. Its presence augurs rite of passage ceremonies, and serves to witness the accrued ritual titles and privileges of their owner. Tampan in large numbers were also used in exchanges and given as ceremonial gifts. This particularly fine example of the genre is noteworthy for the robust visual tension that is created by dynamic asymmetrical designs fielded on an uncluttered background, each section being in perfect counterpart to the other.

The two former owners of these pieces were soulful and notable collectors. In 1971, the Met acquired the Sumba blanket from the late Peter Mol. His house on Reguliersgracht, a charming old street in Amsterdam, was a veritable kunstkammer; a place of curiosity and wonder where man's history was beautifully showcased. I remember Peter's microscopes and his enthusiasm as he would take one on a journey through various lenses to study the chipped stones and knapped flints of distant Neanderthals and Paleolithic horizons in Europe. He was a great teacher. 

Ernest Erickson was a hearty Scandinavian immigrant who was already in his 80's when I first met him in 1970's. His apartment made a lasting impression as European furniture and high Gothic sculptures were commingled with superb early Chinese material. He not only donated these two tampan to the Met, but also gifted in 1988 his great Sumatran skirt with its' powerful aquatic mythical creatures (kain inu), that readers can find presently featured in our Lampung gallery. 

Mr. Erickson would intently look at the so-called ship's cloth from Lampung and say: "I am an old Viking (he would say so jokingly as he was actually born in Finland). If there are holes and enough leaks in a boat it will sink, and if a ship's timbers are not well cared for it affects the whole." Meaning that if a textile's damage is too large it affects how we ought to appraise that particular cloth. Condition, and whether a piece maintained the glow of its original colors, was important to Mr. Erickson. His rationale for how to collect fabrics is reflected both in the caliber of the textiles in the book, Eyes of the Ancestors, and in this website’s own galleries. Each of the collector's mentioned willingness to impart knowledge and pursue excellence is remembered and deeply appreciated by Art of the Ancestors.

Steven G. Alpert, founder of Art of the Ancestors