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Asian art

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Shawl or scarf ('phaa biang')

20th century


Unknown Artist


This is an excellent example of a 'phaa biang'. Unusually, it has a dark indigo blue background covered with patterns woven with discontinuous supplementary weft threads. The background warp threads are silk, and the weft ones are cotton. The patterns are woven in silk and comprise chickens, the tree of life (running down the centre of the textile), birds with two legs, a feathery tail, and a curved beak, and ancestor figures standing on the backs of elephant-birds ('saang hong') with four legs. The latter's trunks reach down to touch doubled-headed naga boats called 'huea hong' (meaning flying boats). Both types of bird shelter their young beneath them. The borders contain a single-headed naga as a decorative zigzag motif, 'dork khor' (hooks), and stylised floral motifs set in diamond shapes. Lao-Tai women wrap phaa biang cloths around one shoulder and the torso. These cloths are also used for healing practices ('phaa sabai'), as head wraps ('phaa khan soeng'), and as shoulder cloths ('phaa phai'). As a curative cloth, the textile was believed to be powerful enough to help the healing process through its combination of colours and motifs.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, December 2011


Other Title

ceremonial cloth, possibly the end panel of a ceremonial shawl

Place where the work was made

Houa Phan Laos


20th century

Media category


Materials used

cotton, silk, natural dyes; discontinuous supplementary weft weave


47.5 x 107.0 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Bequest of Alex Biancardi 2000


Not on display

Accession number