Feature: The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Köln

“It is only through knowledge of other cultures and other ways of life that mutual understanding, respect and tolerance between people in their immediate vicinity can be promoted.” RJM catalogue.

The exterior of the museum

Last autumn OATG members David and Sue Richardson spent time at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World in Köln, Germany at the invitation of Sonja Mohr, the curator for Insular Southeast Asia, and give their impressions of it below.

The first thing that hits you as you enter the huge reception area of this museum in central Köln is the rice barn from Kesu’ region, Tana Toraja which the museum acquired in 1984. Fortunately they have the provenance of this structure and know that it was decorated in around 1935 by the master carver Ne’Kambane. It must have been an enormous task to dismantle this and reconstruct it the museum.

The rice barn which dominates the entrance to the museum. © David Richardson

© Sue Richardson

The bones of the collection came from that of Wilhelm Joest. He was a great traveller and collector and when he died of fever in the South Seas his collection went to his sister Adele, who was married to Eugen Rautenstrauch. When her husband died just a few years later, Adele financed the construction in 1901 of a museum to house this collection, which opened in 1906 in South Köln.

Joest in his Berlin apartment. © Rauchenstrauch-Joest Museum

Damage sustained by the building during the war, plus the risk of flooding from the Rhine, meant a new location was required and the current museum opened in the city centre in 2010. It is spread over several levels, with a gallery for temporary exhibitions on the ground floor and the main permanent exhibition above.

The main exhibition is grouped around several themes, based on cultural comparisons, under the banner People in their Worlds.  As we entered the exhibition we were faced with a large screen with a video showing numerous people of different ethnic origins saying welcome in a variety of languages. “This comparative cultural approach emphasises the equality and validity of all cultures and provides impulses for thought and stimulating dialogue.” RJM catalogue.

The next area was used for the performance of gamelan music and wayang shadow plays.

One of the areas we found fascinating was the recreation of the homes of several major collectors. The walls were covered with a facsimile of the interiors, and items that could be seen on those images were also exhibited in the room. This gave us a greater understanding of context.

Max Oppenheim’s apartment c 1920 decorated with items from his collection of Orientalia. © David Richardson.

After considering the role of the collector we entered an area which looks at The Distorted View, examining our prejudices about other people. It looks at historical views of people seen as “other”, as well as current ones.

Following this we entered the section which examines the portrayal of the human figure by peoples with different artistic traditions. One of the stand-out pieces for us was this altar from Leti, Eastern Indonesia, acquired there in 1912 by Wilhelm Müller who unfortunately died of typhoid on Java just 4 years later.

An altar for offerings to Hu-rainna Hu-tualinna, the founding ancestress of a particular kinship group.© David Richardson

Next we entered the area looking at Living Spaces. This contained many examples of dwellings including a tipee from the Blackfoot of the northern Plains, a Tuareg tent , and a large section of a men’s house from the Asmat people. This was of particular interest to us as we have visited several Asmat villages over the years. This particular example was abandoned in 1993. In complete contrast to this was the reception room of a house from Kayseri in Cappadocia (Turkey). This dates to the beginning of the 19th century and the interior decoration is a combination of Islamic and European styles.

© Martin Classen and Arno Janson

Our favourite part was next – The Body as a Stage: Clothes and Adornment. One section looked at how regional forms of clothing and decoration have evolved and how some fabrics have come to represent a people – as in the case of batik.

Sarong (cut open and rolled) from Lasem on the north coast of Java c. 1880. This is a masterpiece of batik with lots of different animal motifs.

© Sue Richardson

The next section looked at how clothing differs by gender in many societies and we were delighted to see cloths from Tanimbar Island in Indonesia used to convey this.

Tanimbar sarong. C. 1900. The black and white stripes in the middle show that this belonged to someone of high rank. © David Richardson

Tanimbar loincloth, dyed with indigo and decorated with shells. This section would have hung down at the front. © Sue Richardson.

One of the most outstanding pieces came in the section on Power and Wealth and was this feather cloak from Hawaii. This sort of cloak could only be worn by certain members of the nobility, and hundreds of thousands of feathers went into making this.

Feather cloak ‘ahu’ula from Hawaii. This dates to pre-1823 and originally belonged to King Kamehameha II. © David Richardson

We also loved this extraordinary bull-shaped coffin which was made for the museum in 2006 by the Balinese artist I Ketut Budiana.

© Sue Richardson

The exhibition ends with almost a mirror image of how it began – with a video on a large screen of the same people who said welcome in differnt languages. However there is a twist – this time they all speak in German and say Ich bin ein Kölner/Kölnerin – I am from Köln. We really loved this idea.

We have only been able to provide a snapshot of this excellent museum here – omitting a Peruvian cloth that dated to the 14th century, Gujarati patolu, fabulous Asmat carvings etc, etc. The museum has over 3,500 textiles and a varied selection of them are on display – with yet more in their wonderful storage area. We highly recommend a visit!

 

*********************************

 


 

Advertisements

Article: Kisar Textiles

OATG members David and Sue Richardson are passionate about Indonesian textiles and recently have been researching the weavings of the small island of Kisar in the Lesser Sundas, to the east of Bali. As part of this research, last year they corresponded with Sonja Mohr, the curator for Insular Southeast Asia at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World in Köln, about the museum’s collection of Kisar textiles. These were collected by Heinrich Kühn in 1888, Professor Alexander W. Pflüger in 1900 and Wilhelm Müller-Wismar in 1914. Sonja very kindly invited them to Köln to examine these textiles for themselves. The information gained during that visit, along with field research, has resulted in the publication of the final page on Kisar textiles on their website Asian Textile Studies. Below is their report of their trip to the museum.

Most of the visitors heading to Köln in December are there to see the Christmas markets, but we had a different objective in mind – textiles – and not just any old textiles, but textiles with excellent provenance collected on Kisar in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Textile heaven! A fantastic selection of Kisar textiles ready for us to examine.

We had corresponded with Sonja Mohr for several months and she and her colleague, Senior Conservationist Petra Czerwinske-Eger, had gone to great lengths to prepare for our visit. Christian Andert, the chief storekeeper, had brought the Kisar textiles from the main storage area to one of the laboratories so that we could all examine them in detail. All of the information they held on each piece had been printed out, along with questions it was hoped we might be able to answer together.

We started by looking at the sarongs, which had been prepared for us. These were more varied than expected, with some, such as the one below, having very little ikat but lovely rich deep colours.

A simple Oirata lau which might date to the late nineteenth century.

We then looked at the ceremonial sarongs, from both the Oirata and Meher communities and discovered that one Oirata tubeskirt had been mislabelled as Meher.

An Oirata mauwesi lau which had been mislabelled as a Meher homnon.

We then moved onto examining the male loincloths and it was again interesting to first see some very simple examples.

Sonja and David looking at a man’s simple loincloth.

The ceremonial loincloths collected in 1914 were just stunning – woven from fine hand-spun cotton with narrow bands of ikat and end sections of continuous supplementary weft.

A fantastic niala or irä from Oirata, which led to much discussion.

One of the unexpected highlights for us was the collection of waistbands, which really were little gems.

Analysing waistbands collected by Müller-Wismar in 1914.

We discovered silk threads had been used in some narrow warp stripes and the twinned end band of one of these.

Sue and Sonja discussing more waistbands collected by Müller-Wismar.

After two lengthy sessions we left the museum with a huge sense of satisfaction with our goal achieved, and looking forward to working together with Sonja, Petra and the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World in the future.

If you would like to read more about these textiles, along with many detailed photographs, please visit the Kisar page of our Asian Textile Studies website.

 

***************************************************

 


 

Exhibition: Fast Fashion. The Dark Side of Fashion

Exhibition dates: 12 October 2018 – 24 February 2019

According to the website of the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Köln this “exhibition sheds light on the background of a globalised textile industry. It deals with the production mechanisms, economic and social aspects, but also with environmental issues. In the second part, “Slow Fashion”, the exhibition focuses on examples of more sustainable manufacturing techniques from different cultures around the world, often based on traditional knowledge and sometimes becoming popular again as deliberate countermovements.”

The Fast Fashion section of the exhibition was designed by the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg in 2015 against the backdrop of the major fires in textile factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

OATG members David and Sue Richardson recently visited the exhibition at the invitation of Sonja Mohr, curator for Insular Southeast Asia, and give their impressions of it below.

This exhibition opens with mannequins dressed in couture clothing, positioned alongside film of catwalk shows – all very glamorous, until we see the conditions in which High Street versions of these clothes are made.

We learn of the impact of poor working conditions through images of the Rama Plaza tragedy in which a building collapsed in Bangladesh killing 900 people. Many of the clothes being made there were intended for the bottom end of the fashion market.

The worldwide impact of the demand for such products is brought home by a map showing how a pair of jeans might be made across many different countries, one process being completed in each, until they reach their final destination and are sold in Europe. However that isn’t the end of the story. When their owner has discarded those jeans, they often end up in Africa as part of the trade in used clothing.

In a similar way we learn through some strong images how slogan T-shirts, made in Africa for the US market, also end up as discarded fashion in the used clothing markets in Haiti and Africa.

 

The section on the impact of pesticides was also very strong, with the sad image of the shrinking Aral Sea in Central Asia.

The Slow Fashion section is compiled from the collections held by the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Köln:

To counteract all of this, the other part of the exhibition focuses on Slow Fashion, in which knowledge is passed down through the generations, artisans are valued, and the processes used to produce the textiles are often very time-consuming. This section has two strands – cloth that is produced mainly for the local market, and cloth which is being adapted for an international market.

There were several pieces from Thailand, including one from the early twentieth century, and a more recent piece woven in Sawai village, Isan Province, in this century.

As we are passionate about Indonesian textiles our eyes were immediately drawn to several pieces from Sumba. The first of these was from Kodi in West Sumba. It was a man’s hip wrapper or shoulder cloth known locally as a hanggi (hinggi in some parts of East Sumba). This was collected in 1900 and features the mamuli motif – metal mamuli are displayed right next to it. Hanggi are generally made as a matching pair and the other part was still on the loom when it was collected at the same date. This loom required many hours of conservation work by specialist Petra Czerwinske-Eger before it was ready to be exhibited.

Hanggi from Kodi, West Sumba, collected in 1900

The loom before restoration – image courtesy of Petra Czerwinske-Eger

The same loom after restoration

Next to this was a hinggi from East Sumba, featuring andung (skull trees) and horses, also collected in 1900. The final piece from Sumba was one we immediately recognised. It was from the collection of Wilhelmina de Jong and had been made by our good friend Freddy Hambuwali of Indigo Art in the last decade – but still using natural dyes. We had last seen it in the Striking Patterns exhibition at the Museum der Kulturen in Basle.

Hinggi from East Sumba made by Freddy Hambuwali (when previously displayed in Basle).

Cloths from the village of Nggela (the site of a recent devastating fire) in Flores were also on display, accompanied by a short film showing how they were made.

We had been asked by one of the curators, Sonja Mohr, to provide some quotations from weavers we know to illustrate the concept of Slow Fashion. We were delighted to see this one by our friend Theresia, the head of the Kapo Kale weaving group which has both Christian and Muslim members, displayed so prominently. She will be so proud when we take a photo of this to her when we lead a group there in May during our Tribal Weavings of the Lesser Sunda Islands Textile Tour.

 

Theresia (centre) with some of the members of her weaving group

In another part of the world the wearing of locally produced cloth has a political dimension. Faso dan Fani means “woven cloth from the homeland” in Burkino Faso. The former president, Thomas Sankara, promoted the wearing of clothing made from this handwoven cotton cloth and also prohibited textile imports in the 1980s. After his assassination in 1987 this nascent industry collapsed. Since a change of government in 2015 politicians have once more started to wear this cloth and it has become fashionable again. The BBC have produced a short report on this trend, which can be viewed here.  We are reminded of the words of Sankara: “Wearing Faso dan Fani is an economic act, a cultural and political challenge to imperialism”.

Men wearing Faso dan Fani

We were also drawn to the textiles produced by the Japanese company KUON, which means “eternity”, “permanence”. The company website describes how Boro means worn out or patched clothes. These have often been dyed with indigo. When clothing became worn and tatty, people mended it using the sashiko stitching technique. As they became more and more worn they were turned into floor mats and eventually into dusters. Nothing was wasted – a real contrast to the concept of Fast Fashion! “Instead of simply repairing the Boro, KUON creates new pattern from scratch, disassembles the textile into pieces, and reconstructs in order to turn it into modern fashion.” The company are working with women affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Textiles are being revitalised using sashiko and patching and the fabric is then used to make new garments – each imbued with a sense of history.

A sample of Boro fabric from the KUON website

A sample of sashiko stitching from the KUON website

This exhibition, which ends on 24 February,  is well worth a visit, particularly if you combine it with a visit to the museum’s permanent exhibition Man in his World.

 

******************************