This is why I love Tribal Art: A Dayak Dragon

From time to time, I will post examples of tribal art from different cultures which I think are artistically and cultural compelling. This is the 5th installment in the series.

Architectural element in the form of a Dragon (Aso), Kenyah Dayak people, Kalimantan, Borneo.
Wood, Length: 157 cm, width: 21 cm. First quarter of the 20th century. The Wallace Collection.

The Dayaks of Borneo traditionally live in longhouses comprising up to 50 rooms. As the most important dwelling structure, long houses are often decorated with powerful images of spirits carved in relief or sometimes in the round, like this Aso (‘dragon’) finial. The work of a master carver, the creature has an imposing head and a sinuous body ending in a graceful tail. The overall form of this Aso – in particular, its head turn on its back – recalls the ancient bronze dragons of early China.

Right: dragon handle on a bronze ritual wine vessel. Early Zhou period, 5th century BC. Literature:
Jessica Rawson, Chinese Bronzes (Trustees of the British Museum, 1987) and Liu Yang, Cast in Eternity: Ancient Chinese Bronzes from the Shanghai Museum (Yale University Press, 2014).

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