Bohol, central Visayas, Philippines

Madonna of the Immaculate Conception
santos figure
[Immaculate conception] 19th century Description: Santos figure
Title Notes: National Museum of the Philippines no.: 0095018
Materials & Technique: sculptures, wood, paint; wood, paint
Dimensions: 43.2 h x 14.5 w x 12.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of the President of the Philippines HE Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.221
  • The Gallery’s internationally renowned collection of textiles from Southeast Asia was recently enriched by two separate gifts—one presented by His Excellency Mr Teuku Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb, Ambassador of Indonesia to Australia, and the other by His Excellency Mr Ernesto H de Leon, Ambassador of the Philippines to Australia, on behalf of Her Excellency Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines.

    Indonesia’s gift is a richly adorned ceremonial costume by noted Indonesian fashion designer Adjie Notonegoro. The costume was formally handed over as part of a celebration held in Canberra in May 2007 to promote Indonesia’s cultural heritage. Drawing on the traditional kain kebaya, it consists of a wraparound batik skirt and a velvet kebaya tunic with matching embroidered slippers. The garments combine traditional techniques of batik and embroidery with high fashion. Embellished with sequins, the design on the hand-drawn batik skirt is an adaptation of the parang rusak (broken sword) motif historically reserved for use by Javanese royalty. Adjie Notonegoro’s design deliberately echoes the style of dress worn by the prominent Javanese aristocrat Raden Ayu Kartini. Born in 1879, Kartini was a pioneer of the women’s rights movement in colonial Indonesia and is now a national heroine.

    From the Philippines came a selection of fine traditional textiles from cultural groups throughout the archipelago and two santos (saint figures). The textiles—two abaca fibre skirt-cloths from Mindanao, and a man’s loincloth, a woman’s skirt and a large rice basket from Luzon—demonstrate the diversity and skill of weaving in the Philippines. Women of the Subanen and Tagakalao cultures in highland areas of Mindanao traditionally weave abaca, a thread made from the wild banana plant, using simple looms. Featuring warp ikat geometric designs, abaca textiles are integral to life-cycle rituals in traditional societies of the southern Philippines. The vibrant cotton loincloth and skirt, intricately decorated with supplementary weaving, embroidery and beads, are ceremonial garments of the Kalinga and Gaddang people of northern Luzon. As in many cultures across Southeast Asia, beads denote prestige, and the colours red, black and white symbolise status and relationships.

    The santos—one representing Saint Anthony de Padua and the other depicting Madonna of the Immaculate Conception—make an important contribution to the Gallery’s embryonic collection of Christian art from Asia. Christian beliefs and artistic forms are an important aspect of the culture of the Philippines and images of saints have been prominently displayed in churches and homes throughout the country since the arrival of the Spanish, and Catholicism, in the sixteenth century. Originally the tools of proselytising missionaries, santos are now popular images for worship.

    The Gallery is delighted to have acquired these generous gifts which significantly increase the collection of art from the Philippines and widen the scope of our Indonesian textile collection to include the work of a celebrated contemporary fashion designer.

    artonview, issue 53, autumn 2008

    in artonview, issue 53, autumn 2008