Among the pieces on view are a vast collection of Tibetan and greater Himalayan Buddhist ritual objects and adornments, Islamic silver jewelry from the nomadic tribes of Turkmenistan and the city-states of Uzbekistan, tribal and folk jewelry from across South Asia, personal ornaments from the Indonesian archipelago, and the monumental jewelry of southwestern China’s ethnic minorities. Tying all these disparate objects together is the fact that the peoples who produced them have largely been pushed into the margins, surviving today only in the remotest of areas. In these cultures, jewelry is auspicious and holds great meaning; it is rarely mere adornment. Necklaces, pendants, earrings, and headdresses all serve social, ritual, or talismanic purposes.
A highlight of this manifold use of jewelry is a cobra-like headdress (perak) from Tibet composed of long rows of turquoise stones that, when worn, cascade from a woman’s forehead down the length of her back. A stone synonymous with Tibetan jewelry, turquoise is believed to hold mystical healing properties, and its quantity and quality act as status symbols for the wealth of a woman and her family. With more than 100 large turquoise stones as well as small amulet cases (gaus), this stunning perak signifies great spiritual and earthly fortune for its wearer and joins hundreds of similarly meaning-filled objects in this vibrant display of craftsmanship and culture.
The exhibition flows through five geographical areas—from mountaintop monasteries in the Himalayas to oasis settlements of the Central Asian steppes marked by grand blue-tiled mosques, madrasahs, and mausolea; on to the pastoral regions and deserts of South Asia and the most secluded islands of Indonesia; and finally to the river valleys in China’s mountainous Guizhou province. Providing an immersive experience with music and video installations throughout the galleries, Vanishing Beauty brings these dispersed cultures to life through a dazzling array of extraordinary objects, each rich with stories from some of the most inaccessible regions of the world.