Japanese Belt Ornament


Popular in 17th and 18th century Japan, belt ornaments such as this one are known as netsuke.  Used to fasten belongings to a belt, the elaborately carved ornaments also served as symbols of the wearer’s class, wealth, and taste.  This example, which is slightly more than an inch tall, is made of ivory and represents a pair of guardian figures known in Japan as shishi, which are represented as having the features of a dog and a lion.  Shishi are used to ward away malevolent spirits outside of Buddhist and Shinto shrines.  A wide range of netsuke are currently on exhibit in Playing with Spirits: Pokémon and Shintoism.

Yup’ik Snow Goggles


These snow goggles were made by the Yup’ik people in the Kuskokwim River Valley of Alaska.  Known to Yup’ik speakers as i-guak, the goggles are carved from a single piece of wood with only small slits to see through. Yup’ik hunters use snow goggles all year.  In the winter, they prevent snow blindness caused by the strong reflection of sunlight off the snow.  In the summer, they act simply as sunglasses, shading the hunters’ eyes.  This pair of goggles was collected by Moravian missionaries working in the Bethel, Alaska, in the 1880s.

Mexican Calaveritas

Calaverita3 webx

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2. Many families set up an ofrenda or offering to the spirits of loved ones who have passed away.   It often includes favorite foods and drinks, flowers, candles, images of saints and the remembered ancestors, personal items, and other objects.   In urban areas, skulls and skeletons are popular elements of ofrendas. In addition to sugar skulls, miniature skeleton figures like these, known as calaveritas, reenact scenes from daily life. They represent the ancestors and things they liked to do, bringing back happy memories of the deceased.   These calaveritas are currently on display in Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Calaverita1 webx

Calaverita2 webx











Bassa Reliquary


This reliquary comes from the Bassa peoples in Liberia. For the Bassa, death marks the transition from being a member of society to existing as an ancestor. Though dead, ancestors are not completely cut off from their living descendants. Bassa families gather the bones of their deceased relatives into a bundle so that they can continue to care for their departed family member as well as continue to receive their guidance and blessings. Such bundles are topped with sculpted heads that evoke ideals of beauty, wisdom, and serenity. This reliquary is currently on display in our newest exhibit, Visions of Home: A Celebration of Gullah Art and Culture, illustrating the theme of Family.

Indonesian Shadow Puppet

Puppet webx

This mid-to late 20th century shadow puppet is currently on display in our Musical Narratives of the Southwest Pacific Rim exhibit, which explores the performing arts of the Southwest Pacific Rim thorough musical instruments, masks, puppets, and dance costumes from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa.

These shadow puppets often portray characters from Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata.  This particular Indonesian puppet represents the character Arjuna in the Mahabharata, the longest Indian epic.  Arjuna, one of the 5 Pandava brothers, is one of the protagonists of the epic and is known for his skill in archery.  Puppeteers provide the movement, voice, and sound effects for the character.  The show is often accompanied by a small gamelan performance, a traditional instrumental ensemble of Indonesia.  Video of a performance is included in the exhibit.

Chinese Scroll Painting

Chinese Scroll Painting webx
This early 20th century Chinese scroll painting is currently on exhibit in Incredible Journeys: The Life Histories of Museum Objects, which focuses on how the featured artifacts came to be at the MOA.  The painting is in the Northern Song style, which, rather than depicting the subjects in three-dimensional detail, aims to show how the objects in the painting and in real life are alike in spirit.  The style plays on the dichotomy between realism and abstraction.

The scroll was collected by Marion Dudley, who lived and worked for the YWCA in Hong Kong and Shanghai between 1927 and 1947.  She collected dozens of paintings, silks, porcelains, and other decorative objects. Chinese society was experiencing cultural and political upheaval during the period Dudley lived there.  As a result, many artists sought to preserve traditional aesthetics while also incorporating Western techniques.