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



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