October 5, 2014
Li Textiles of Hainan: Seeking the Source of Lost Austronesian Iconography
Tom Murray

Some pictures
click on the thumbnail for the full picture.

The Li of Hainan Island (off the south coast of China) are categorized as one of China's 55 ethnic minorities. They are speakers of the Tai language group, making them most closely related to peoples of mainland SE Asia like the Tai Lao and the Thai, but their iconography is strongly Austronesian, thereby more related to Indonesia.

Li weavers use a foot-brace back strap loom; the most archaic known very similar to the Bronze Weaver acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in recent years and thought to date to Early First Millennium.

The Li use embroidery, ikat and supplementary weft designs to great effect, with many zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images prevailing. Tom offered an introduction to Li culture, history and prehistory; a survey of the primary Li-dialects and their textile techniques and styles; an analysis of Li costume motifs and their relation to the most important of Indonesian textile iconography from Timor to Lampung; and the revelation of his new insight into the "structure vs. iconography: what comes first?" debate.

Thomas Murray is a private dealer of Asian and Tribal art with an emphasis on Indonesian sculpture and textiles, as well as animistic art from other varied cultures. He also features Indian printed trade cloths from the 13th-18th Centuries.

He has placed objects in more that 30 museums on four continents. A HALI contributing editor for the last 20 years, he serves as their "in-house" expert on all ethnographic textiles, with more than 50 publications to his name. He has lectured widely, including "Ottoman Influences on Islamic Calligraphic Batik from Indonesia" and most recently "Lampung Imagery, Textile Iconography of South Sumatra" given at the DeYoung Museum of San Francisco and at the Hong Kong branch of the Asian Society. Thomas Murray is Past President of ATADA, The Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association.

He is comes to us in Washington as a member of President Obama's Cultural Property Advisory Committee. President Obama said of Murray, "This dedicated individual brings a wealth of experience and talent to his new role and I am proud to have him serve in the months and years to come."

return to home page