Tribal Jewelry dating from 500AD to the 1960s and spanning dozens of cultures originating in locales as diverse as India, Africa, Persia, Central America, Oceania and China, is the subject of a new show, “Adornment” from February 2 - March 31 at TAMBARAN gallery at 5 East 82nd Street in New York.
According to TAMBARAN gallery founder, Maureen Zarember, “Adornment is a universal ritual. More than mere exhibition, many of these objects are deeply spiritual, demonstrating the wearer’s distance inward. The diverse and creative examples of personal adornment are staggering. Whether it is in or out of fashion, ancient or contemporary, it is the manner in which people express their cultural differences.”
In the early 60s and 70s Maureen Zarember’s travels to the South Pacific sparked her passion for tribal art and set her on the path that has lead to her fascinating career. Considered an expert in tribal art, she works with the best known collectors in the field and handles some of the most important examples of Polynesian, North West Coast and African material on the market.
Now Zarember has curated a show offering dozens of outstanding, often unique, examples of tribal jewelry, all for sale, at prices that range from as little as $300. to over $100,000. In fact, one third of the Tambaran jewelry is priced under $2500 and the vast majority is under $10,000. Past owners of the rare examples at Tambaran include celebrities such as Andy Warhol as well as major museums and private collectors in Paris, Belgium, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Australia, and Singapore.
Tribal jewelry in Tambaran’s “Adornment” collection originated in cultures in thirty-two different countries and in materials as varied as glass, ivory, agate, shell, woven fibers, bones, sterling silver, lapus lazuli, turquoise, feathers, carnelian, jade, jasper, opal, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and sapphires.
Zarember says that, “Almost as soon as we started offering tribal jewelry in the 60s and 70s we began selling it to some very seasoned collectors, among them Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Onassis and Dodi Rosenkranz, all women with a distinctive eye for style.”
“It seems in our hyper-commercialized, designer-branded world, those attracted to tribal jewelry are as fascinated by the stories behind these pieces as they are with their beauty. Pieces that have survived for hundreds or even thousands of years carry a certain electricity when you wear them, like you’re part of the story rather than the other way around.”
“The now anonymous artisans who created these adornments did so out of a universal impulse we all have to communicate using a vocabulary of materials available in our locale. Then and now we all seek to simultaneously express our individuality while demonstrating our connection to others in our community. Ultimately, adornment is to attract attention to one’s body and by extension the religious beliefs, social values or economic status of the wearer.”
“In tribal cultures objects for adornment were made from both precious and not-so precious materials by fashioning wearable objects that conveyed the aesthetic dimensions of the society. Some used decoration as permanent as body scarification or tattoos while others used materials as transient as feathers or leaves. As with today’s adornments, some were opulent, made from rubies, emeralds, sapphires and gold, and some as simple as Cowrie or Bailer Shell.”
“Depending on culture and custom, men and women wear equally splendid creations. Male adornment is a rich topic unto itself that includes everything from ear ornaments to gorgeously carved weapons. These objects are often imbued with talismanic properties.”
• On the cover of Tambaran Gallery’s “Adornment” catalogue is a 20th century South Indian Tamil Nadu hair ornament in 22K gold with 37 radiating spikes surmounting a large ring with four gold tack-shaped appendages on each side.
• Other highlights of the show include a Moche Maskette from the Loma Negra, North West Coast of Peru dating to 100BC – 600AD made of gold, gilded copper, shell and Lapus Lazuli.
• An exceptionally important 19th century ear ornament almost six inches long is made of 22K gold, silver, turquoise and resin. It came from Lhasa Tibet in the Himalayas. “These were unique to Tibetan culture and worn on festive occasions by women of considerable wealth and status. It was balanced on the temple of the head and secured in the hair with the aid of red cotton threads to support the weight.”
• Equally striking is a circa 1950 Santa Fe Indian Pendant, also six inches in length, that comes from the Andy Warhol Collection. “The striations of a leaf design are carved into the turquoise on this remarkable pendant which is signed and stamped and set into a silver bezel with 18 blood coral elements. The silver suspension loop is also inlaid with turquoise.”
• From Hawaii is a Lei Niho Palaoa necklace dating to the 19th century made from human hair, sperm whale ivory and fiber. Zarember says, “Only important male and female members of the ruling class could wear this, and the attached card was written by Dr. Mifs Ayling in 1845.”
• From the 14th century is a Parrot Necklace from Java, Indonesia in gold over five inches in length. Zarember says, “The stylized parrot cutouts were restrung with ancient dark blue Chinese glass beads.”
• From Lhasa Tibet is a 19th century Gold Prayer Box or “Ga’hu” designed to appease evil spirits and unique to Tibetan culture. The 22 and 24K box, 4.5 inches in size, comprises turquoise, coral and pearls and is suspended from restrung beads.
• A turn of the century Shiva Necklace is strung on large rudraksha seeds and is worn uniquely by worshippers of the Hindu God, Shiva. Its central pendant depicts Shiva and his consorts. A gold prayer box is suspended below with a hinged opening that would have held written prayers.
• Two Nias Head Ornaments from Batu Island, Indonesia have four gold repousse roundels with orange glass beads and five flower like ornaments with a central stamen and dark rose beads. Zarember points out that, “An old post card is published in Nias Tribal Treasures depicting a Batu Island bride wearing this piece as a crown.”
• From 20th century Nepal Tambaran gallery is offering a Nepal Necklace in 24K gold over resin and textile with 13 large gold melon shaped beads measuring 1 3/8 inches, with red fabric discs with gold trumpet-like finials.
• An extremely rare Mauve Tutsi Necklace with 112 multi strands of Venetian trade beads hung on natural fiber likely dates to the 19th century, from what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Zarember says, “It’s theorized that trade beads disappeared into rivers and deep lakes as tokens in exchange for safe passage.”
New and seasoned collectors will all find something to their liking this show. Among pieces under $2500 there are numerous Sumba Royal Bracelets in Ivory from 19th century Indonesian, Silver bracelets and Torc from India, Georgian Russian Gold and Silver Bracelets and Gold and Lapis Lazuli Bead Necklaces from Afghanistan. At prices under $1,000 Tambaran is offering a Cowrie Shell Headband from Papua New Guinea, Kapsiki People Bronze Cuffs from Cameroon, and Silver Bracelets from India that date to the late 19th century.
“Wherever I’ve been I am asked about the tribal jewelry that has been my constant companion throughout my life. My love of tribal jewelry has colored both my personal and professional identity, and my fascination with its many forms and meanings has never wavered. It became natural for me to acquire pieces I could share with people I meet through my tribal art gallery. Visitors to the gallery cannot help but become as enchanted by these unique objects as I have been these past three decades.”
IF YOU GO
‘ADORNMENTS’ – Tribal Jewelry at TAMBARAN
Feb 2 – March 31
5 East 82nd Street New York, NY 10028
• Rajasthan (North India)
• South India
• Tamil Nadu
• Timor (South East Asia)
• Turkamon Bride’s ornament and Cuff (Yomund)
• Tchekoslovakia (Jasper, Carnelian and ancient Glass beads)
• Coral, Gold, Turquoise beads and Gau-box
• Ivory Coast
• Burkina Faso
• Carnelian Beads
• Mayan Jade beads (early classic pre-columbian 200-650 Ad)
• Colima, Peru
• Sinu 500-1500 Ad (flat semi-lunar shaped gold)
• Papua New Guinea
• Tahitian Shell leis
• Archers rings (Jadeite)
Ancient Glass Beads
Pearl Shell with rubbed pigments
Bones / Animal Teeth / Feathers
Semi-/ Precious Stones
Lapis Lazuli beads