This sixth-century bronze sculpture of a mother suckling her young child, who touchingly clutches her other breast, is the rarest, oldest and most important Southeast Asian work of art in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. Recent dating of its clay core reveals that the figure was cast between 556 and 596, over 1400 years ago.
The bronze weaver is a superb example of the archaic Southeast Asian style, associated with animist beliefs in the power of ancestors and the natural world, which predated the Indian-influenced Hindu–Buddhist religions of the region. The woman is seated at a simple foot-braced loom and is dressed only in a calf-length skirt, echoing traditional dress styles of the remote regions of Indonesia today. Her braided and plaited hair is unusual, and she wears a simple necklace and bold hollow ear plugs. The sculpture was found on the Indonesian island of Flores, where it survived as a family heirloom. In Flores, women still weave patterned cotton textiles for ceremonial wear and gift exchange on body-tension looms very similar to the one depicted here, while men commonly carve ancestral figures from wood.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008