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Pair of earrings in the form of ancestor figures

19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist

  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Kalimantan Borneo Indonesia
    19th century-20th century
    Media category
    Materials used

    a - earring, 8.5 x 2 x 1.7 cm

    b - earring, 8.5 x 2 x 1.7 cm

    Bequest of Christopher Worrall Wilson 2010
    Lower Asian gallery
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    The Kenyah and Kayan peoples of central Kalimantan use personal adornment in the form of tattoos and jewellery to mark status and wealth, signify maturity and to safeguard individuals from dark magic and an array of potentially dangerous spirits believed to inhabit the human world. Heavy brass ear ornaments, like this pair of squatting figures with spiralling headdresses, would have been inserted into enlarged piercings to elongate the earlobes of adult males and females. Imagery of anthropomorphic figures alluding to ancestral spirits and deities proliferates the art of Borneo in sculptural and two-dimensional forms. These pendants most likely represent a pair of ancestors and would have had powerful connotations with the fertility and protection bestowed on the living by benevolent forebears. They would have been a treasured item of a household’s family heirlooms, and worn to display fortune and power.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

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

    • Elemental, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Jul 2022–2024

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

  • Provenance

    Christopher Wilson, pre 1989-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased in Indonesia.

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