Spottiswoode Gallery

Sumba | indigo ikat menâs headcloth | Indonesia

Sumba | indigo ikat men’s headcloth | Indonesia

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Directory: Vintage Arts: Regional Art: Asian: Southeast Asian: Textiles: Pre 1980: Item # 1388269
Spottiswoode Gallery
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East Sumba, Kanatang, 2nd half of 20th century

Commercial cotton, natural indigo dye, warp ikat

A headcloth (tiara) woven with large white ikat figures on an indigo ground. The design places a large squid or cuttlefish at the centre, flanked by mirroring pairs of sea-horses and chickens on each side. Small geometric motifs enliven the ground, and spots of lighter blue create a three-dimensional effect of an “under” layer—especially beautiful is the way these lighter blue spots bring out the design’s dynamic interaction with the ikat process, where the tying and dyeing through several dye baths can be seen in the textured shades and tones of indigo. The piece is finished at both ends with soft long fringes graduating from deep blue to white, twisted in groups but not knotted. A classic Sumbanese weaving, with spontaneous, graphic simplicity.

Context: This tiara belongs to the most valuable class of textiles made for ceremonial purposes (rather than commercial or tourist trade). Textiles from east Sumba have traditionally been major status markers for the noble caste throughout the island, who at one time had the sole right to wear decorated textiles. Their exchange substantiates alliances between clans, and is necessary to the rituals of the local animist belief system (Marapu). Large quantities are required as prestige clothing and gifts on ceremonial and ritual occasions (Jill Forshee, Decorative Arts of Sumba, Peppin Press, 1999, 33-39).

Cloth carries cosmological and social symbols, marking clan, gender, rank, and ancestral affiliation. Animals are both literally a part of great social ceremonies, and, as motifs on cloth, symbolize the wearer’s qualities. Aquatic and amphibious creatures, such as the sea-horse and squid on this headcloth, relate to noble ranks, and often denote personal qualities such as cunning, longevity, dualistic powers, and transformation to the next world. Chickens are ritual animals whose entrails are used in augury.

This ikat tiara was worn as a men’s headcloth, folded so that one fringe points upwards while the other drapes over one temple; this arrangement symbolically connects the wearer to the ancestral spirits of both heaven and earth. (Threads of Life

Condition: The headcloth is in excellent condition, and appears to have hardly been used; there is no damage, stains, holes, or tears. The indigo is vivid and intensely saturated, and the white is bright and clear with a touch of beige. The fairly lightweight cotton is tightly woven and the cloth is a little stiff, fresh, with a slightly sandy texture.

Length: 168 cm plus 14 cm fringes at one end, and 16 cm fringes at the other end. Width: 20 cm.