Tausug Textile "Hangs" with Mondrian Abstraction at The Asian Art Museum

Installation view of "Gorgeous" at Asian Art Museum: Headcloth, 1900–1960, Southern Philippines; Sulu Archipelago, Tausug people, Tapestry weave silk, collection of Asian Art Museum, and Composition (No. III) Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1935/1942, By Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944), Oil on canvas. Collection of SFMOMA. (Photo copyright Asian Art Museum)

Installation view of "Gorgeous" at Asian Art Museum: Headcloth, 1900–1960, Southern Philippines; Sulu Archipelago, Tausug people, Tapestry weave silk, collection of Asian Art Museum, and Composition (No. III) Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1935/1942, By Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944), Oil on canvas. Collection of SFMOMA. (Photo copyright Asian Art Museum)

IIn an historic faceoff, a Tausug headcloth dialogues with a Mondrian abstraction at the Asian Art Museum’s “GORGEOUS” show. The exhibition showcasing exceptional artworks from the collections of Asian Art Museum and SFMOMA, challenges preconceptions of what constitutes “gorgeous.”

The textile made the cut and is one of 72 works, chosen from tens of thousands in both museums’ collections. Its aesthetic merits were found comparable to the important paintings with which it is hung, many of which are worth upwards of 20 million dollars each.  

One of the four curators, Forrest McGill, the Asian Art Museum’s senior curator of South and Southeast Asian art, describes the textile: “If you continue counting units, checking color sequences, and so on, you’ll be amazed at the themes and variations, the mirror images and reverse mirror images, the regular and irregular counterchanging of colors, and many other complex effects.” 

The Tausug headcloth in detail (Photo copyright Asian Art Museum)

The Tausug headcloth in detail (Photo copyright Asian Art Museum)

The headcloth’s patterns provide an ethnic counterpoint to a Mondrian of roughly the same period. Piet Mondrian made an enormous impact on modern art when he reduced painting to geometric abstractions, primary colors and black lines, seeking to remove everything not essential to painting. Little did the anonymous Tausug weaver imagine that his/her humble piece would one day be displayed to define beauty beside giants of modern and Asian art including works by Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miro, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Japanese and Chinese scrolls, sculptures of Hindu deities and Persian works. If any of our readers knows someone among the Tausug, do forward a link so they may enjoy their moment of fame.

“Gorgeous” is on view from June 20 through Sept. 14, 2014 at the Asian Art Museum on Larkin Street in San Francisco.


France Viana is a journalist, visual artist and marketing consultant. She is an active board member of Philippine International Aid and the Center for Asian American Media, sponsors of the CAAM Asian American Film Festival.