Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia
Woman's ceremonial skirt
cotton, silk, natural dyes
130.0 (h) x 120.0 (w) cm
Acquired through gift and purchase from the Collection of Robert J Holmgren and Anita E Spertus, New York 2000
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Throughout Lampung many textile designs display enigmatic anthropomorphic figures with radiating headdresses. Strange figures appear in the silk embroidered bands on noblewomen’s skirts, some with hourglass torsos, others dissolving into fluid squid-like forms. Often in pairs, and sometimes with exposed genitalia, they suggest ancestral imagery on textiles worn at rites and celebrations associated with fertility and abundance.
While large palepai hangings usually display boats, potent symbols of transition, another striking design shows rows of seated figures with curling limbs and elaborate head ornaments. Displayed at feasts of rank and given to the eldest son of local clan or district leaders as a mark of hereditary leadership, the figures may symbolise the genealogical ancestors of the local ruling families.