Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection presents more than 300 exquisitely crafted items of personal jewelry and ritual objects from some of Asia’s most remote regions. This exhibition represents a promised gift from Barbara and David Kipper and reflects their passion for collecting, which was stoked by decades of travel and a concern for artistic and cultural preservation.
As a professional photographer, Barbara also felt compelled to document these cultures and captured many images of pieces similar to those in the Kippers’ collection as they were being used. The following images are organized by region and pair objects from the exhibition with images taken by Barbara of similar versions being used during festivals and throughout daily life.
Music and performance plays an important role in Buddhist rituals and ceremonies. Thousand-year-old lively and elaborately costumed dances, collectively referred to as Cham, are performed at monasteries throughout Tibet, Ladakh (India) and Bhutan.
The oracle plays an important role in Cham. He acts as a bridge to the divine world, performing an important ritual during the dance known as oracle divination. In this ritual, the oracle invites a particular deity to embody his person. Oracles wear elaborate costumes with crowns such as this diadem, breastplates known as oracle mirrors (melong), vibrant silk textiles, armor, weaponry, and fierce masks depicting the faces of deities.
Monks play dramatic horn and drum music to accompany Cham. The beat of these hand drums (chod damaru) acts as a sound offering (syan pa) to Buddhist deities, meant to emulate the forceful destruction of malevolent spirits.
Most of the tribal peoples of India, also known as adivasi (original inhabitants), live in a belt that stretches across the subcontinent, from Gujarat in the west to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Odisha in the east. Among these groups, jewelry can help identify a person’s regional origin, tribal affiliation, religion, marital status, and age.
Silver jewelry, such as these large cuff bracelets, are often simpler in design, as they act as objects of portable wealth and may be melted down in times of need.
Gold jewelry, often in the form of nose rings and earrings, tend to be more finely crafted and would be handed down from generation to generation to maintain tribal heritage.
The Miao people constitute one of China’s largest ethnic minority groups, living in tight-knit communities across Guizhou Province. For thousands of years, silver jewelry has played an important role in Miao culture as dowry, in weddings, and to indicate clan membership. Silver traditions continue to this day, while young women tend to embrace more abundant silver aesthetic compared to older women. A young woman’s festival or wedding ensemble may include hundreds of delicate silver pieces.
We invite you to see these spectacular objects in person before the exhibition closes this weekend!
—Hannah Perry, Former Research Assistant, Department of Asian Art
Cham dancer at the Likir Monastery, Ladakh, India. Photograph by Barbara Levy Kipper; Oracle Diadem, 19th Century. Tibet. Promised Gift of Barbara and David Kipper; Oracle Mirror (Melong), 19th century. U-Tsang Province, Tibet. Promised Gift of Barbara and David Kipper.
Performers in a courtyard in Bhutan playing ritual drums (chod damaru), Photograph by Barbara Levy Kipper; Ritual Drum (Chod Damaru), early 19th century. Tibet. Promised Gift of Barbara and David Kipper.
A woman wearing upper and lower arm bracelets in Rajasthan, India. Photograph by Barbara Levy Kipper; Pair of Cuff Bracelets (Kadla) with Faux Buttons, 20th century. Bhil or Rabari Tribe, Rajasthan or Gujarat, India. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper.
A woman wearing a nath, or gold nose ring, in Rajasthan, India. Photograph by Barbara Levy Kipper; (top) Granulated Nose Ring (Bulaq), early 20th century. Himachal Pradesh, India. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper; (center) Jeweled Nose Ring (Nath), Late 19th century. Gujarat, India. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper; (bottom) Beaded Nose Ring (Nath), second half of the 19th century. Maru Meghwal Tribe, Gujarat, India. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper.
A Miao woman heavily adorned in silver jewelry, including a crown (hfud tat nix) and a series of neck rings (hlinb pob). Photograph by Barbara Levy Kipper; Woman’s Crown (Hfud Tat Nix) with Birds, Butterflies, and Floral Motif, first half of the 20th century. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper; A Miao woman wearing a series of neck rings (hlinb pob) and a pair of earplugs (ghab naix dlenx). Photograph by Barbara Levy Kipper; Woman’s Bracelet (Hlinb Pob) with Chainlink Design, 20th century. Miao, Leishan County, Guizhou Province, China. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper; Woman’s Neck Ring (Hlinb Pob) with Chainlink Design, mid-20th century. Miao, Taijiang County, Guizhou Province, China. Promised Gift of Barbara Levy Kipper.