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Asian art

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Bowl carved with mythical creature (aso)

late 19th century-20th century


Unknown Artist


The practice of headhunting on Borneo was strongly associated with notions of fertility and renewal. It was essential for restoring cosmic order, sanctifying and renewing relationships with ancestor spirits, and ensuring the spiritual and physical welfare of whole communities. After headhunting was largely abandoned by the Dayak and Iban groups of Borneo in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the skulls and bones of wild swine, bears, primates and apes were used for rituals dependent on headhunting and sacrifice. Probably fashioned from the skull of a large primate, this bowl would have been considered a prized hunter’s trophy and a ritual implement imbued with the spiritual essence of the deceased prey. The simple form is embellished with the depiction of the ubiquitous Bornean ‘aso’, a demonic dragon–dog beast originating from the underworld and associated with fertility and protection. The delicate scrolling design is reminiscent of the ornamentation styles of the Kenyah and Kayan groups of Central Kalimantan.


Place where the work was made

Central Kalimantan Borneo Indonesia

Cultural origin

Kenyah or Kayan


late 19th century-20th century

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

animal skull


6.8 x 15.0 x 14.0 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 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, 50 (colour illus.).