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Asian art

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Weaving shuttle (turak)

19th century


Unknown Artist


Among the Iban of Borneo, the female art of weaving is referred to as ‘kayau indu’ or ‘women’s war’. Just as male prestige is related to prowess in war, female status is determined by weaving skills. Only the most accomplished and spiritually mature women are responsible for the creation of original designs, which are revealed to the weaver by supernatural spirits. Because of the dangers associated with such close contact with the spiritual world, weavers depend on charms and protective imagery to ward off potential harm. Used to pass weft threads through the warp threads of a weaver’s loom, this weaving shuttle or ‘turak’ is incised with powerful symbols encompassed within a dense network of scrolling plant tendrils. While the large headless anthropomorphic figures symbolise fertility and human sacrifice, creatures of the underworld in the form of a crocodile and stylised dragon–dog (‘aso’) heads would have provided protection against malevolent forces.


Place where the work was made

Sarawak Borneo Malaysia

Cultural origin



19th century

Media category


Materials used



57.0 x 3.8 cm x 3.0 cm


Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019


Christopher Wilson, pre Nov 1986-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, probably purchased Sarawak, Malaysia mid 1970s or 1985. Appears in 'Southeast Asian tribal art', an unpublished text by Christopher Wilson, College of Fine Arts, Sydney, November 1986.

Mariann Ford, 1996-Dec 2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, inherited from the estate of Christopher Wilson. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.

Referenced in 2 publications


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 53 (colour illus.).

Christopher Wilson, Southeast Asian Tribal Art, Nov 1986, Plate 6 (colour illus.) unpaginated.. detail