We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.

🛈 Find out what you need to know before visiting


Cloth with Islamic calligraphy (kain kaligrafi) and image of Sumatran mosque

early 20th century


Unknown Artist

  • Details

    Places where the work was made
    North Java Java Indonesia
    Sumatra Indonesia
    early 20th century
    Media category
    Materials used
    cotton, dyes; batik
    91 x 192 cm
    Gift of John Yu 2020
    Upper Asian gallery
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    This object features forms of Islamic expression unique to Southeast Asia that illustrate the combination of Islamic teachings with local customs and material culture. When Islam was introduced to Southeast Asia it was quickly incorporated into existing religious and cultural practices. At the same time, aspects of earlier cultural forms were employed to express Islamic ideas. Calligraphy is central to Islamic art and as calligraphers applied their skills to different materials and surfaces they found a means to express the word of God, to write poetry, to tell stories and to decorate architecture and objects of daily use. So, where Islamic calligraphy appears in Indonesian textile design its inclusion can have multiple purposes. The text may be an Islamic prayer and also appeal to local belief in the protective nature of talismanic cloths. The designs and illustrations that accompany the text frequently express local interpretations of Islam. The batik banner offers a rare illustration of an early prototype mosque particular to Southeast Asia. This three-tiered mosque that utilised aspects of domestic architectural design was known in Java as early as the 16th century, and its form is found in Malaysia as well as Pattani (southern Thailand) and Mindanao (southern Philippines). Today Southeast Asian mosques tend to exhibit Indian and Middle Eastern architectural ideals and so this textile presents an important historical record of earlier mosques specific to the Southeast Asian vernacular. Like most textiles from Indonesia the work was produced by women. After the calligraphy was executed in hot wax the cloth was dyed and the wax was boiled out, leaving the stylised Arabic letters beautifully articulated in white on a blue background.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Provenance

    John Yu, pre 2015-2020, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased in Indonesia. Donated to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2020