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Claire Holt Collection of Indonesian Dance and Related Arts

Thousands of photographs of Indonesian costumes, theatrical performances, and dance movements taken by scholar Claire Holt and others, collected by her in travels through the region in the 1930s and later.

Collection Contents  |  Related Subjects

Battle dances, Mangkunagaran and Kraton, Surakarta. Danced battle (Pandji Andaga vs. Buginese warrior), Mangkunagaran, Solo, 1931. Digital ID: 1107087 Battle dances, Mangkunagaran and Kraton, Surakarta. Danced battle (Pandji Andaga vs. Buginese warrior), Mangkunagaran, Solo, 1931. Digital ID: 1107087

Collection History

The photographs were taken chiefly by scholar Claire Holt (1901-1970) during her visits to Indonesia in 1930-38, 1955-57 and 1969 to visually document the plastic and performing arts for her research. A number of these photographs were published in her books Dance Quest in Celebes (1939), Art in Indonesia (1967), and the exhibition catalog Théâtre et Danses aus Indes Néerlandaises (1939).

The Modern Indonesia Project at Cornell University donated the collection to the NYPL Dance Division in 1978. Funding from the Ford Foundation helped accomplish the arrangement, description and physical care of the collection, nearly a decade later. The Dance Division has additional materials of the Claire Holt Collection, including unpublished texts on Javanese and Balinese dance, and 16mm films available for study.


Clair Holt's first exposure to Indonesia, in 1930, left her with an enduring impression of a complete integration of art in the spiritual and daily lives of its people. This pervasive interplay held Holt there for ten years, then brought her back twice, and kept her teaching and writing about Indonesia for the remainder of her life. Because Indonesian art and life are so intertwined, Claire Holt knew that just as important as observing dance and the formal study of dance was the understanding of the history and culture of Indonesia as a whole, its music, religion, literature, sculpture and architecture.

Animal dances, combat dances, court dances, horse dances, magic and magic dances, puppets and marionettes, ritual and ceremonial dancing, shadow shows, shamanism, street dancing, trance dances, war and weapon dances, and funeral rites and ceremonies are all included. Also, field notes and sketches document dances, costumes and musical instruments of various tribes on the island of Alor. In addition to dance and dance-related subjects, the collection also contains a sizeable number of photographs of ancient Hindu and Buddhist architecture and sculpture, principally from Java. The collection forms a special chronicle of a time and place long since changed.

Related Resources

Archives Internationales de la Danse. Théátre et danses aus Indes Néerlandaises. (1939)

Holt, Claire. Dance Quest in Celebes. (1939)

_____ . Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change. (c1967)

Library Division(s)

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