Dallas Museum of Art Publishes Its First Catalogue Devoted Solely to the Arts of Island Southeast Asia

The Publication of Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art Will Be Commemorated with a Weeklong Indonesian Celebration in June 2013

The Dallas Museum of Art announced the publication of a catalogue devoted solely to the Museum’s Island Southeast Asian collection and a weeklong commemorative celebration of the spectacular collection from Indonesia, East Malaysia, and East Timor. Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art is the third in a series of catalogues documenting the magnificent works in the DMA’s encyclopedic collection, following the 2009 publication of The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art and the publication of The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art released earlier this year.

This new catalogue takes an in-depth look at the Dallas Museum of Art’s internationally significant collection of artworks from Island Southeast Asia, which has brought it much acclaim over the past 30 years. Beautiful photography and essays by distinguished international scholars unlock the magic of these distinctive island cultures.

Available in July 2013, the richly illustrated 336-page book highlighting 105 works from the DMA’s collection was edited by renowned Indonesian anthropologist Reimar Schefold in collaboration with author and consultant Steven G. Alpert, with contributions by Steven G. Alpert, George Ellis, Nico de Jonge, Vernon Kedit, Reimar Schefold, Achim Sibeth, and Roxana Waterson.

“For more than three decades the Dallas Museum of Art has collected, exhibited, and championed the arts of Island Southeast Asia, encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and East Timor,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, The Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “Eyes of the Ancestors is our first publication devoted solely to the Island Southeast Asian collection, taken both as a whole and with object entries showcasing many of its most dazzling treasures.”

One of the Dallas Museum of Art’s most significant collection areas is currently displayed in three galleries at the DMA featuring the regional arts of Island Southeast Asia, including those of Indonesia, East Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei, and the Republic of Timor- Leste (East Timor). “This internationally respected collection continues to grow and enthrall Museum visitors, and Eyes of the Ancestors allows this collection’s history and magnificent holdings to be experienced by many,” stated Steven G. Alpert, author, consultant, collector, and contributor to the DMA’s Arts of Island Southeast Asia collection and catalogue.

To commemorate the upcoming publication of the Eyes of the Ancestors catalogue, the DMA will host a weeklong celebration of the Museum’s outstanding Indonesian collection beginning June 11. Throughout the week, visitors will be introduced to the works in the DMA’s collection through creative and artistic opportunities in the galleries available through the DMA’s Pop-Up Art Spot and with a commemorative self-guided tour, A Glimpse of Indonesia, highlighting important works from the collection. A gallery talk, film screening, dance demonstration, and jazz performance inspired by the Museum’s renowned collection will also take place throughout the weeklong celebration. The highlight of the week’s celebration is a special gamelan and wayang performance on Tuesday, June 11, with preeminent wayang performer Dhalang Purbo Asmoro. Asmoro, born in Pacitan, East Java, in 1961, is able to trace his lineage back to at least six generations of Javanese dhalang and is one of the most talented and popular dhalang alive today. Wayang workshops and introductions to gamelan will be held on Wednesday, June 12, in conjunction with Tuesday’s special performance. For more information and for tickets, visit the Museum’s website, DMA.org.

The DMA’s Island Southeast Asia collection is an exemplary one based on artistic excellence and drawn from indigenous peoples who created these items during the apogee of their traditional cultures. The collection is also internationally known for its iconic pieces and for its subtle mixture of sculpture, textiles, metalwork, and jewelry. Visitors can experience many objects from the collection that are currently on view in the Asian galleries and other galleries at the DMA, all included in free general admission. Highlighted works from the catalogue that are currently on view, and featured in the commemorative self-guided tour, include:

  • Mouth mask probably depicting the head of a rooster, Indonesia, Southeast Moluccas, Leti, Luhuleli (19th century): On the island of Leti, ritual dances featured a small sculpture representing the head of an animal. The dancer held the masklike object in his mouth by the tab extending from the back of the head. This 19th-century mouth mask in the collection, which depicts a bird, perhaps a pigeon or rooster, is one of only four known to be in existence.
  • Pair of male and female ancestor figures (ana deo), Indonesia, Lesser Sunda Islands, Central Flores, Ngada, Nagé people (late 19th–early 20th century): For most Indonesian cultures, ancestors are the most important spiritual authorities. A person owes everything to those who led the way. Sculptures of ancestors were often created in male and female pairs, suggesting a duality, or balance between two parts. Look for other examples of ancestors in the Indonesian galleries.
  • Altar depicting the first female ancestor (luli), Indonesia, Southeast Moluccas, possibly Luang or Sermata (19th century): Statues of the first female ancestor, or luli, meaning “sacred,” were created to honor the most important life-giving force and sacred source of fertility. Many Indonesian societies are matrilineal, or organized along female lines of descent.
  • Priest’s staff (tunggal panaluan), Indonesia, North Sumatra, Toba Batak people (19th century or earlier): Priest-magicians inserted magical ingredients into cavities in staffs such as this one, and rubbed special substances on their surfaces to give them power. For the Batak peoples, this staff had the ability to ward off enemies, bring rain, cure illness, and protect fields, people, and animals.
  • Ceremonial cloth (tampan), Indonesia, South Sumatra, Lampung region, Paminggir people (19th century): The four fanciful birdlike creatures on this textile are most likely inspired by hornbills, revered symbols of the upper world. For the people who made this, the universe was organized into the middle realm, in which humans lived; the upper world; and the underworld.
  • Standing guardian figure (tepatung), Indonesia, East Kalimantan, Wahau River, Bahau people or Pre-Bahau people (c. 16th–19th century): With legs that resemble those of a strong feline, and with animalistic bared teeth, this figure is a fierce and powerful form capable of warding off evil spirits or housing the soul of an ancestor.

Inaugurated in 1980 with the gift of the Toraja tau-tau, the DMA’s collection of arts of Island Southeast Asia forms a vital part of the Museum’s overall holdings and comprises wood carvings, textiles, gold objects, and other materials. Now numbering more than 300 representative works of superlative quality, it ranks as one of the most outstanding collections of art from Island Southeast Asia to be found anywhere in the world. The Museum’s Indonesian holdings increased during the early 1980s. The first Indonesian textiles were purchased, and the Art Museum League funded the hanging ancestor figure from Atauro. The Museum also hosted the seminal exhibition Art of the Archaic Indonesians, which included the DMA’s Batak singa and the Toraja tau-tau.

In 1983, The Eugene McDermott Foundation made possible the purchase of the Steven G. Alpert Collection of Indonesian Textiles— seventy-six pieces that represent the major textile styles of southern Sumatra, Sarawak, Sulawesi, Sumba, and eastern Indonesia, many of them illustrated in the forthcoming catalogue. This purchase gave the Museum its core masterworks of Indonesian textiles and set the tone for future acquisitions in this area. In 2008, the Museum was the recipient of a remarkable group of ornaments, jewelry, and gold items, gifts of The Nasher Foundation in honor of Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher that broadened, and in many ways perfected, the collection.

Other significant acquisitions and gifts of South and Southeast Asian art over the past few decades have included a Leti mouth mask, a Mentawaian sacred carving (jaraik), and a male Batak figure, all purchased by The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.; an Iban mask, gift of Albert and Elissa Yellin; various gifts and promised gifts from Steven G. Alpert and Family; fractional and promised gifts of stone items and Timor spoons from Sally R. and William C. Estes; and a figurative Timor door, gift of Diane Ansberry Rahardja and Andyan Rahardja and Family in honor of Louise Steinman Ansberry.

About the Catalogue
Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art is edited by Reimar Schefold, professor emeritus of the anthropology and sociology of Indonesia at Leiden University, in collaboration with Steven G. Alpert, an author, consultant, and connoisseur of the arts of Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim, with contributions by Steven G. Alpert; George Ellis, former President and Director of the Honolulu Academy of Arts; Nico de Jonge, Vice-Director of the University Museum of the University of Groningen, The Netherlands; Vernon Kedit, an authority on the weaving traditions of the Saribas region (Sarawak, Borneo); Reimar Schefold; Achim Sibeth, former curator of the Southeast Asian collection at the Museum of World Cultures in Frankfurt/Main; and Roxana Waterson, a social anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. The catalogue is published by the Dallas Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. (Publication date: July 2013; Price: $65.00; ISBN-978-0-300-18495-2).

About the Dallas Museum of Art
Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Museum welcomes more than half a million visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy, and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.


For more information, please contact:
Jill Bernstein
Dallas Museum of Art