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Asian art

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Pair of earrings in the form of ancestor figures

19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist


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.


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


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 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. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.

Referenced in 1 publication


Niki van den Heuvel, Ancestral art of the Indonesian archipelago, Sydney, 2017, 79 (colour illus.).