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Archetypes, Aesthetics, and Agency: Adat Textiles of Early Indonesian Cultures

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Archetypes, Aesthetics, and Agency: Adat Textiles of Early Indonesian Cultures

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Thursday, May 26
1:00 p.m. PT
Speaker:  Thomas Murray, Asian, tribal, and textile art researcher, collector, lecturer and private dealer
Virtual Event


Indonesian textiles are known to convey messages across time and space by means of an archetypal iconography that include human figures, trees, boats, reptiles, birds, and geometric patterns. These encoded images follow ancestral traditions and customary laws known as adat: cloth becomes sacred through a combination of fine spinning, dying, and weaving that creates a sense of aesthetic wonder. The anthropologist Alfred Gell referred to this state of mind as the “Technology of Enchantment”:  The better the weaver’s technique, the greater the cloth’s aesthetic beauty and the more “agency” of spiritual power within an indigenous cultural context. Although those outside the culture cannot decipher those archetypes in terms of the mindset of the weaver’s community, Gell expresses that the cloths nonetheless convey messages that are powerful, visually compelling, and meaningful to outsiders, though not the same meaning as in the textile’s original context.

This lecture will follow the themes presented in the newly published book, Textiles of Indonesia, and will focus on some of the finest cloths to come out of the archipelago, presenting each object with impeccable photographs. Geographically arranged, this lecture pays particular attention to textiles from the Batak and the Lampung region of Sumatra, the Dayak of Borneo, and the Toraja of Sulawesi, as well as rare textiles from Sumba, Timor and other islands.

Thomas Murray is a California-based independent researcher, collector, lecturer, and private dealer of Asian, tribal, and textile art with an emphasis on antique Indonesian sculpture and textiles and Indian printed trade cloths from the 13th to 18th centuries, as well as animistic art from other varied cultures. A contributing editor to HALI Magazine for more than thirty years, he serves as its in-house consultant on ethnographic textiles and has more than fifty publications to his name, including numerous articles on tribal art and textiles, as well as eight books and catalogues: Indonesian Tribal Art (2001), Animistic Art of Island Asia (2008), Masks of Fabled Lands (2009), Pairs, Couples and Maternity: The Art of Two (2014), C-14 Dating of Dayak Art (2015), Textiles of Japan (2018),  Rarities – From the Himalayas to Hawaii (2019) and Textiles of Indonesia (2021). He is past president of the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association (ATADA) and served a three-year term as a member of US President Barack Obama’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the Department of State in Washington, DC. Thomas Murray currently serves as the president of SF Tribal, an organization of San Francisco Bay Area art dealers.


Please note, this session will be conducted virtually via Zoom.

Please register by clicking on this link. All participants will be sent the Zoom link via confirmation email with instructions once you secure your place. Space is limited.


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Sponsored by the Asian Arts Council.


Featured: Ceremonial cloth, palepai, with single red ship and archaic tree (detail), Paminggir people, Kailanda district, ca. 19th century. Lampung cotton, metallic wrapped threads; supplementary weft. Thomas Murray Private Collection.

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May 26, 2022
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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