Focus on Indonesia

There are so many exciting things happening in the world of Indonesian textiles at the moment that it’s clear I need to devote a whole blog to them. Several of the talks don’t take place until later next month but are filling fast!

© Chris Buckley and Sandra Sardjono

A fascinating new paper has recently been published by OATG members Sandra Sardjono and Chris Buckley. They write “We have discovered an Indian loom technology in use in Indonesia (Minangkabau region). The loom has been published before, but the Indian origins of its unusual ‘cord and pole’ warp suspension system have not been pointed out as far as we know. This is significant, since it implies that Indian craftspeople crossed the Indian ocean to Java or Sumatra at some point in the past.”

This paper is available to read and download here.

The Newsletter of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is published three times a year and always has a Focus section.

In the current issue the focus is on textiles, with twelve articles about their changing roles in society. “The articles explore ever-present processes of adoption and adaption of ‘foreign’ elements into a local cultural context.” – IIAS. The image above shows a list of the articles. Please click here to access the articles themselves.

Finally, next month sees the publication by Prestel of a book every collector of Indonesian textiles is sure to want on their bookshelves. “Gathered over the course of four decades, the Thomas Murray collection of Indonesian textiles is one of the most important in the world……. Geographically arranged, this volume pays particular attention to textiles from the Batak and the Lampung region of Sumatra, the Dayak of Borneo, and the Toraja of Sulawesi, as well as rare textiles from Sumba, Timor and other islands. Readers will learn about the intricate traditions of dyeing, weaving, and beading techniques that have been practiced for centuries.” – Prestel.

There are contributions from many leading scholars, including no less than three OATG members. UK members even get the chance to buy this book first, as due to the weight it has to be shipped by sea to the US. Published on 19 October 2021 and available to pre-order now.

Detail from the cover of his book. © Mark A Johnson

On Saturday 2 October 2021 The Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, California will host an in-person talk by Mark A Johnson on the subject of The Unique Art Forms of the Kayanic People of Borneo. This event will also be available for online attendance. It will take place at 13:30-14:30 PDT, which is 21:30-22:30 BST. Registration is essential.

This talk will be based on Mark’s recently published book The Kayanic Tradition. Kayanic Dayak Art from Borneo. Volume 1: Guardian Sculptures. A preview of a few pages of the book is available here to whet your appetite.

Cutting the ikat bindings on Savu.© David Richardson

On Saturday 16 October Geneviève Duggan will give a Zoom lecture about the ikat textiles of Savu in Eastern Indonesia for the Textile Arts Council in San Francisco. Geneviève gave a presentation to OATG members in March of this year, which was a great success.  Sadly not long after that Savu was hit by cyclone Seroja and is still recovering from its effects.

Geneviève has been studying the textiles and material culture of this island for decades, spending long periods living with the weavers in their villages. I’ve met her there several times and her love for the place and its people is clear.

This talk will take place at 10:00 PDT, which is 18:00 BST. Click here to register.

© Tracing Patterns Foundation

The OATG event for October will be an online talk by members Chris Buckley and Sandra Sardjono of the Tracing Patterns Foundation. The subject will be Fiber Arts from Papua.

“The Dani people of the Baliem Valley in Papua possess no looms, but fiber forms an essential part of their lives, so much so that the explorer Karl Heider called theirs a ‘culture of string’. “ – Tracing Patterns Foundation

Tracing Patterns Foundation is currently cataloguing and conserving a huge number of Dani items, collected by the late Dr O W Hampton in the 1980s. Chris and Sandra will discuss how techniques such as plaiting and knotless netting were used to produce a wide variety of objects. “Large head-nets were important items of dress for women, as well as practical carrying containers. Some of the most interesting and unusual artifacts are stone tools and sacred objects, bound with fibres, feathers from birds of paradise, and other materials. “

This talk will take place at 18:30 BST on Thursday 21 October 2021. Invitations will be sent out to members in a couple of weeks time, and registration will open to non-members a week later. This should be a fascinating talk so do mark it in your diaries!

The most recent edition of our Asian Textiles journal contained an article by Georges Breguet and Gaspard de Marval on Alfred Steinmann and the Ship Motif. This provided an excellent overview of the work of Steinmann, as well as a review of the current exhibition on the subject at the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich.

On Sunday 24 October the Washington-based International Hajji Baba Society will host a programme on Steinmann’s research into the use of the ship motif in Indonesia.

“For many centuries, the people of southern Sumatra saw themselves as living on a ship floating between the sea and the heavens. This idea was woven into fascinating textiles featuring elaborate depictions of ships carrying humans and animal-like beings. These ship cloths were used in ceremonial and ritual contexts. 

Alfred Steinmann, one of the former directors of the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich, was one of the first scientists to study these textiles in depth and to try to interpret them. In several writings that appeared from 1937 to the 1960s, he examined the ship’s motif from a cultural and historical perspective, from the Bronze Age to the present day. He interpreted the elaborately patterned ship cloths as depictions of the passage of dead souls into a land of ancestors. Although later researchers added other layers of interpretation to Steinmann’s, to this day his contribution remains essential for understanding these textiles. “ – IHBS website

This programme will involve not only a PowerPoint presentation by Paola von Wyss-Giacosa and Andreas Isler, but also a virtual guided tour of the Zurich exhibition – a real treat! Please note that spaces for this virtual event are limited and are filling fast so register now.

Exhibition: Woven Power – Ritual Textiles of Sarawak and West Kalimantan


College of the Holy Cross - Woven Power

Exhibition dates: 31 August – 14 December 2016

Pua kumbu are magnificent, intricately dyed, hand-loomed cotton ikat textiles once woven as religious objects par excellence by the Iban and the related Dayak peoples who produced them in Southeast Asia. They were said to be full of powerful spirits and designed to be extraordinarily beautiful to attract the attention of the gods and invite them to draw near to human ceremonies. Over decades, emeritus Tufts University engineering professor John Kreifeldt amassed a comprehensive collection of pua kumbu, sungkit wraps and kain kebat skirts from Sarawak and West Kalimantan, with examples from the 1800s to 1940. Kreifeldt is the primary lender and a collaborator on this exhibition at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts; other than a few textiles, most have never been displayed before in any museum.

Fieldwork anthropological essays by curator Susan Rodgers will accompany the exhibition. ‘Woven Power’ is Rodgers’ fifth exhibition of Southeast Asian textiles at Cantor Art Gallery.

For more information, visit the website of the College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts, USA.