The Art of Batak

April 11, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Posted in itchy fingers | Leave a comment

Itchyfingers were delighted to find another interesting exhibit at the Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) when we were there visiting the “Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda” exhibition. This is an exhibition about the Batak, a group of six communities related by language and culture from the mountainous interior of northern Sumatra. Over 80 works in wood, stone, and bronze on loan are on show, 20 of which have been donated to the ACM.

Coincidentally, Tisu Boy had a company trip to Lake Toba not too long ago….

The Batak were greatly feared by their coastal neighbours as headhunters and sorcerers….Wow…makes you think of black magic….and something on the dark side….But maybe because all the artefacts were already cleaned up and now displayed nicely in museum, Itchyfingers think they are actually very cool pieces of art….very graphical and stylised…

The magic staff is the most important tool of the priest. This one, called tungkot malehat, is in the form of a human figure riding a singa, or a mythical lion-like beast. He is usually surrounded by smaller figures with their hands pressed together, possibly as a sign of respect or deference

The other form of the magic staff is the totem pole-like tunggal panaluan, with many figures and animals atop one another….This one looks very comical….

Some used strings….Not sure if the white stuff were bones….

Palm fibre was used for many of these magic staffs….Looks like real hair!

This magic staff is topped by a horse and rider surmounting small squatting figures with hands clasped over their knees…Can’t see them here cos all the artefacts were displayed behind glass and there were so much reflection from the surrounding windows. Also, since most of the pieces were dark in color, photographing them with proper exposure was a real challenge.. The magic staffs are also so long, so most of our photos show just close-ups or parts of the magic staff…

The star of this medicine container is the stopper with this regal figure riding a singa. The Batak probably learned of lions from Malay or other sources but had little concept of what it looked like. Hence, the depiction of the beast often combined elements of a horse and a naga (mythical serpent), and often have an almost human face

Another medicine container. The figure seemed to be riding a dog? Quite cute… :p

This one looked either like a chicken, or a warrior with helmet…Wahahahah….

The medicine horn is one of the most important pieces of equipment in a Batak priest’s arsenal

Guardian figure like this one were meant to look fierce to ward off evil…But why the smile leh…hahahah….The hair was fashioned from palm fibre and the bright red eyes were seeds of the saga tree….Remember the hug pile of saga seeds at the recent Singapore Biennale? The metal plate nailed to its chest seals a cavity that would have held pupuk, a substance that was believed to animate and give power to the figure…Wow! So he could move?! That’s quite intimidating! And I thought he looked as if he was wearing a graphical tee with a thick-lipped face…wahahahahah!!!!!!!

One of my favourite. At first glance, they looked as if they were dancing!!!! Hahahah….Each of these guardian figures has a second pair of arms attached to the shoulders, giving them a level of dynamism. It also recalls multi-armed Hindu-Buddhist figures, though such a connection has not been proved

Beginning of the Becoming: Batak Sculpture from Northern Sumatra is now on show till 1st June. Admission is free! Do spend some time there!

Also see related posts:
> Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda


Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda

April 3, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Posted in itchy fingers | Leave a comment
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The capital of Tang China (618-907), Chang’an (present day Xi’an), was a hub for economic and cultural exchange. One of the most revered Buddhist sites in China was the Famen Temple. But for more than 1000 years, a finger relic of the Buddha and many gold, silver, ceramic pieces from the Tang dynasty lied forgotten within an underground crypt in the temple, only to be rediscovered in 1987 when the temple pagoda was being repaired.

China at that time not only became prosperous and powerful, but also culturally diverse. This was mainly due to trade with foreign lands through the Silk Route to Central Asia. Camels were highly valuable in these arid lands, transporting goods and food

Ceramic camels excavated from Tang tombs are usually the Two-humped Bactrians, known to be resistant to cold weather. They are often accompanied by figures of foreigners

Nice horse figurine…

Tang tombs were supplied with objects thought to be of use to the deceased, with ceramic figures being a key feature

A lion tomb guardian. Pairs of guardian beasts were typically placed outside the tomb chamber or in niches along the entrance passageway

Figures dating to the earlier Tang period are generally simpler in form, and one of the pair often has a clearly distinguishable human face…Wow…this looks a bit scary and forbidding….more so than the lion….It actually reminded me of the Egyptian Sphinx…

An interesting set of figurines depicting the 12 zodiac animals….but some of them a bit tough to decipher…wahahah….

I like these four miniature Buddhist figures made with gilded bronze…

These collections of small statues were very likely buried to save them from being melted down during the intermittent periods of Buddhist persecutions during the Northern Dynasties and Tang periods….

I find this cute…hahahah…

The third one

Wow, he has three more little figures above him..nice…hahaha

But this has to be my favourite piece….It was what attracted me to the exhibition…. :p

A beautiful turtle-shaped container! This is featured on the promotional leaflet…The shell is the lid and it is probably used to store tea powder

Oh while you are at the gallery hall, do pick up this activity sheet and try embossing the various designs on it…I love the turtle one! So much details! 🙂 Oh, remember to press hard enough to get the full picture…hahaha

The most beautiful feature of this pitcher is the tortoise-shaped rivet on the handle, which rotates…

A coffin-shaped reliquary carved from a single block of jade. It is thought to have held the genuine finger bone relic of the Buddha. Er, that’s up to you to believe…but I thought only a grasshopper or cricket can fit into the little casket …so small….wahahahah…. 😀 There is another made from bronze on exhibit

I find this jug with faces unique. The silk routes brought traders, pilgrims and envoys from near and far. The Chang’an capital during the Tang dynasty became a cosmopolitan city. “This cast bronze jug is one of the most enigmatic objects excavated in China in recent years. It relates to pottery of Iran and of Khotan, a city in southwestern China. Both areas were on the Silk Route, connecting Tang China to Central Asian and beyond.”

The fanciful and complex hairdos of Tang women often involved the use of wigs, which made hairpins a vital accessory. Hairpins also served as status symbols. So the higher one social’s rank, the more hairpins one was entitled to wear….Er, of course lah, poor people how to buy so many gold hairpins like this? Wahahahahah….

Ahhh…the Tang beauty….er…no hairpin leh!?! Wahahah….But there is this tiny hole on her bun which might be where the hairpin was supposed to be….

Tang women are so lucky….they are considered beauties when they are so chubby with slits for eyes and look of a certain Asia leader…wahahah….This looks like the bee-hive hairstyle from the 60s…hahhaah….

Some women have double bun….

She looks like she has a snake head on her….hahah….

You can pick up a paper fan and doll up your own Tang beauty! Wahahah….

The Secrets of the Fallen Pagoda – Treasures from Famen Temple and the Tang Court is ongoing at the Asian Cilivisation Museum until the 4 May. Admission is $8.

Also see related post:
Tales from the Tomb – Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor and His Legacy

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