Thursday, September 03, 2015

Our Precious: Philippine Pre-colonial Gold Metalworks to be Shown in New York

Belt (Surigao Treasure, Surigao del Sur province, ca. 10th to 13th century, 5.5 by 68.3 cm, 564 grams), Ayala Museum Collection (Photo by Neal Oshima)

Perhaps, the most common pre-colonial Philippine artifact is pottery, often in shards and rarely whole. Pottery was the most popular terracotta craft in the country during ancient times and it survives until today. Arguably, Philippine pottery, both ancient- and modern-time, has not achieved a level of sophistication nor exhibited intricacies comparable with other civilizations’ in the world. But what many do not know is that some peoples in pre-colonial Philippines were adept at metalworks, particularly in gold, and their works display amazing craftsmanship and artfulness. Many pieces of this metalwork in gold have been unearthed through the years, and the most significant collections of these are at the Ayala Museum and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) or Central Bank of the Philippines.
More known is the exhibit “Gold of Ancestors” at the Ayala Museum in Makati City, which carries 1,059 gold objects dating to the 10th to 13th century—ornaments, implements, containers and ritual sculptures. The array is astounding and the handiwork equally astonishing. The exhibit itself is well-designed with entrances resembling vault doors, glass floors showing small gold pieces underneath them, and magnifying glasses that can be drawn out to examine the intricate designs.
Now, Ayala Museum is bringing some of the pieces, together with pieces from BSP, to New York, United States, for a groundbreaking exhibit organized by the Asia Society, an educational organization which promotes mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context.
Titled “Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms,” the exhibit will show over 120 gold objects at the Asia Society Museum at 725 Park Avenue, New York City, from Sept. 11, 2015, to early January 2016.
The curators, Adriana Proser, senior curator for traditional Asian art of Asia Society, and Florina Capistrano-Baker, former director of the Ayala Museum, said the objects in the exhibit were discovered over the past 40 years in different sites in the Philippines, but the exhibit will focus on the ancient polity known as Butuan and other political entities in Samar, Cebu, Leyte, Palawan, Mindoro, Marinduque and Luzon. These gold objects were collected and saved from being melted by the BSP and collectors Leandro and Cecilia Locsin. The Ayala Museum gold collection is from the Locsin collection. The BSP and Ayala Museum collections will be augmented by contributions from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musee du Quai Branly of Paris, the Lilly Library in Indiana and the Locsin family for the “Philippine Gold” exhibit, which will mark the first time such collections are displayed together and the first time in the United States.
“The amazing gold works in the exhibition attest to robust cultural connections and maritime trade in Southeast Asia during what was an early Asian economic boom. The diverse and sophisticated gold treasures are evidence of a lost history of prosperity and achievement of early communities in the Philippines that flourished between the 10th and 13th centuries, long before Spanish contact and colonization,” wrote the curators in their remarks.
BSP Governor Amando Maglalang Tetangco, Jr. said that “this exhibit is an excellent opportunity to showcase our pre-colonial cultural heritage...This is an opportune time for other people to know more about the Philippines and get to know the rich cultural heritage of our country.”
Ayala Corp. president and chief operating officer Fernando Zobel de Ayala agreed: “It will give Americans and visitors to New York the opportunity to get to know more about our rich culture and I have no doubt that it will also give Filipino-Americans great pride to see these pieces from their country.”
“While the Philippines has a lot of press coming out on economic issues, we thought there could also be a cultural story,” Doris Magsaysay-Ho, Asia Society Philippine chairman, said. “These artifacts are also very little known scholarship-wise, so with the opportunity to bring them to New York, we are holding symposiums that place the collection in the whole realm of historical scholarship in the Austronesian context.”
The Asia Society Museum has lined up different events in a program to accompany the “Philippine Gold” exhibit. It will start with an opening gala dinner on Sept. 10, followed by academic lectures on Hindu and Buddhist art traces in pre-colonial Philippine gold works and early Asian gold, a theater production titled Alamat: Stories of Philippine Gold by the Ma-Yi Theater Compnay, a rondalla performance, a performance by Grace Nono and a pop-up Philippine food bar. There will also be design exhibitions and a film festival.

For more information, visit To arrange a group tour of this special exhibition in New York, call + 1 212-327-9237 or e-mail

Ear ornament (Eastern Visayas, ca. 10th to 13th century, 4.2 cm in diameter, 0.9 cm thickness, 7.4 grams), Ayala Museum Collection (Photo by Neal Oshima)
Ear ornaments (Aras-asan, Surigao del Sur, ca. 10th to 13th century, 11.7 by 7.5 cm, 11.5 by 8 cm, 27 grams, 27 grams), Ayala Museum Collection (Photo by Neal Oshima)
Ear ornaments (Butuan, Agusan del Norte, ca. 10th to 13th century, 6.7 by 4.5 by 8 cm, 9 by 3.5 by 8 cm, 54.5 grams, 57 grams), Ayala Museum Collection (Photo by Neal Oshima)
Repousse arm ornaments, set of four, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection
Waist cord weights, set of two (ca. 10th  to 13th Century, Surigao Treasure), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection
Bangle with semi-precious stones (gold, garnet and glass; ca. 10th to 13th century, Surigao Treasure), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection
Waistband, complex loop-in-loop weave with a rounded selvage effect (ca. 10th to 13th century, Surigao Treasure), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection
 "Gold of Ancestors" exhibit at the Ayala Museum in Makati City
"Gold of Ancestors" exhibit at the Ayala Museum in Makati City
Asia Society Philippines Board chair Doris Magsaysay Ho and Ayala Corporation president and COO Fernando Zobel de Ayala