2003/186/1 Wall hanging (kalaga), velvet/cotton/sequins/gold wrapped thread, couching and applique, unknown maker, Burma, 1940-1980
Kalagas are elaborately and heavily embroidered cloths made in Burma, and occasionally in Thailand, for use as wall hangings, curtains, room dividers, coffin coverings and theatre backdrops. Originally developed at the royal court in Mandalay in the mid 19th century, using techniques known in Burma for several centuries, kalagas were soon popular throughout all levels of Burmese society.
This kalaga is of a type primarily aimed at the export and tourist market, with its decorative, densely sequinned nagas in ordered cartouches. Nagas are mythical serpent/dragon creatures, which appear in art forms across media throughout Southeast Asia. They are considered both protective spirit and demon. Earlier kalagas were predominantly narrative, with elaborately worked scenes from the Buddhist Jataka tales or the Ramayanai epic.
Most kalagas are still made in family workshops in the old capital of Mandalay. The main figures or forms are typically of padded applique, heavily embellished with sequins, beads and braid. Pieces of cloth are cut to the shape of individual figures, decorated with sequins, then attached to the base cloth and stuffed with kapok or cotton. Final details and embellishments are added to the figures and, lastly, the background areas are filled with additional sequins, braids and beading.