Susan L. Beningson: Top Five Picks From Her Collection

Susan L. Beningson at Asia Society Hong Kong on Nov. 30, 2012. (Wendy Tang/Asia Society Hong Kong Center)

HONG KONG, November 30, 2012 — In the second part of Asia Society Hong Kong Center's interview with Susan L. Beningson, the collector behind the exhibition When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection, she walked through the Asia Society Gallery (Former Magazine A) to share with us her five favorite pieces of jewelry from the collection. Watch the first part of the interview here, where she shares insightsin to her work and recounts how she started collecting jewelry.

This is the first necklace I ever bought, this is the necklace that started it all. I saw this necklace, ruby-studded gold beads, in a jewelry store in Bangkok. I was in Bangkok on vacation. I was on my way to Angkor Wat. I just saw it, liked it and wanted to wear it. When I came home I wanted a pair of earrings to match, and here we are, 180 objects later. So that's the necklace that started it all.

This pendant is one of my most favorite pieces. It's one of the first ritual pieces that I bought in the collection. It's 17th-century and Shiva is sitting in the center, his wife Parvati, is on his lap. Right above their head is a kiertie moko, which is there to dispell evil. It’s an apotropaic figure for protection. You really need a magnifying glass to look at it because inside they're seated in a temple and inside the framework, the arch of the temple, if you look inside of it, it’s all detailed so only the deity can actually see all the architectural detail. When we are looking at it here, we can’t see all that detail. The detail is really quite amazing. You can see a red powder on it also, that red powder when somebody is doing their puja — their ritual worship — they’ll put the red powder on it, and the back of it's really interesting too. On the back of it there's a door with a latch that you open it up and the inside is filled with laque, which is a kind of insect resin to help cause the gold is very high gold content, so it's very soft. The person inscribed their astrological chart on the inside of the door and then the reverse of it is in the laque,  so this was a devotional piece that was donated to a deity in the temple, to a Shiva temple. It's very intimate because it has the astrological chart of the devotee on the inside of the piece, so in addition to being really beautiful and really detailed it has that emotional connection.

The piece right next to it is also one of my favorite pieces. It’s a 17th-century pendant also of Shiva and Parvati on Nandi — the bull — which is the vehicle of Shiva. You can see there's a little screw at the bottom. If you open that up you can lift up the top, so you can touch the deity. It’s covered with crystal on the top and the chain is the same age also the necklace, also 17th-century, and you can see the detail is really fine, very delicate, very delicate like this one's delicate too, and there's just something very spiritual and emotional.

This is another one of my favorite pieces — this pendant. It’s a very large pendant, as you can see. It was meant for a deity to wear, so a sculpture of a deity would wear it. It shows Krishna and his two consorts, and one thing that's really wonderful about it is that the face of Krishna, it's an emerald that's been carved. So you can see his facial features, you can see his knuckles are carved, his ankles are carved, and you can see he's wearing jewelry, of course he's wearing jewelry. Also, his consorts, their faces are rubies that have been carved and they’re holding fly-whisks that the pearls represent — fly-whisks, so that he is comfortable. You can see there are the three loops at the top. The three loops would have either put it on the stand in front of the image of the deity in the temple shrine or actually have been hung in a way on the sculpture itself to wear, so it's a really wonderful image.

This is another one of the objects that is among my favorites in the exhibition. It’s a marriage ornament called a tali. A tali would be tight around the neck of a woman on her marriage day and sometimes you would have a very large one like this for ceremonial occasions, but then some of the smaller ones in the case would be for everyday wear. This particular one is typical of those worn in the Chettiar community in Tamil Nadu in south India. The large hands here are supposed to represent the hands of the newlywed. Some people think that because the Chettiar were seafaring people, that it might have also referred to a stylized version of a crab. You can see the little knobs on the top of the hands, they are faceted with four sides and also at the bottom of the central talismanic figure that’s supposed to represent the four cardinal directions, north, south, east and west. A woman would have worn this on her wedding and then again on her husband's 60th birthday. They would have re-enacted their marriage rituals. The 60th birthday was thought to be the middle of his life and so they would re-enact the marriage ceremony at the time, and I think it's a really powerful piece.

Video: Susan Beningson's favorites (5 min., 11 sec.)