Category Spotlight: Indonesia and Artemis Gallery’s Art of Asia Event

James Ardis
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Indonesia is an archipelago stretching over one-eighth of the earth’s circumference. Although it was only recognized in 1949, modern-day Indonesia served as an important junction between Asia and Oceania centuries before its independence. Artemis Gallery‘s upcoming Art of Asia – Antiquity to Present Day auction features nine lots representing Indonesia’s many cultural groups throughout the centuries. This is in addition to pieces from China, Japan, Korea, and several other Asian countries. Below, we offer a sneak preview of ethnographic work originating from present-day Indonesia.

12th C. Indonesian Majapahit Red-Glazed Goat

Photo from Artemis Gallery

The Majapahit Empire started in 1293 when Raden Wijaya drove the Mongols out of Java. Religiously, the empire was a mixture of Hindus and Buddhists. According to Artemis Gallery, this red-glazed goat may be a representation of Naigamesha, a Hindu goat-headed deity connected to the war god Kartikeya. The figure is half the size of a real goat, and a sun-like spiral is etched in between its eyes. The goat’s horns curve back and connect directly to its mane. Over 700 years after its creation, this piece comes to auction from a private collection in Hawaii. 

Meanwhile, the Majapahit Empire itself would not last as long. By the 15th century, an internal war of succession broke out and, shortly thereafter, Java became part of the Malacca Sultanate.

Late 18th C. Indonesian Wood Relief Plaque – Barong

Photo from Artemis Gallery

In Balinese mythology, Barong is the leader of good spirits. His rival is Rangda, the demon queen. This depiction of Barong is a hand-carved wooden plaque with petaloid leaves around the base. There are also still trace amounts of the original red and white pigment. Barong shows his fangs as if he is about to confront the bad spirits. 

Visitors to Indonesia may still have the opportunity to view a traditional dance of Barong facing off against Rangda. The ritual begins with two innocent monkeys playing with Barong before Rangda casts her black magic. The dance ends with Rangda running away from Barong in defeat.

19th C. Indonesian Wood Shaman Staff w/ Horse Hair

19th C. Indonesian Wood Shaman Staff w/ Horse Hair
Photo from Artemis Gallery

Speaking of the meeting of white and dark magic, bidders will also find a shaman’s staff from the Batak tribe. Historically, these people believed that a shaman could harness both forms of magic. Several rituals were believed necessary to activate the staff’s power, including the sacrifice of a child from an enemy village. This particular staff has human and animal effigies lining it. Pink cabochons decorate many of their eyes. Meanwhile, horsehair weaves across the top of the staff.

20th C. Indonesian Dayak Carved Boar Skull Openwork

Dayak is an umbrella term for large groups of indigenous people from Borneo. This boar skull shows off the traditional carving skills of the Dayak people. A wire attached to the mandible allows the skull to be fully articulated. Headhunting was a common part of life for many Dayak people. Decorating skulls, even a human skull, was a part of life in this area. “It was believed the head contained a ‘life force’, writes Pierre Nachbaur, “that could be harnessed for the benefit of the head-taker’s community.”

Artemis Gallery sells antiques, as well as ancient and ethnographic art online. The four lots above are among the 150 pieces on offer in Artemis’s Art of Asia auction this Thursday, March 19th at 11:30AM CDT. Collectors of ethnographic work will find pieces from the third millennium BCE to present and from across the Asian continent. Those interested can register to bid online for the event at LiveAuctioneers