Exhibition of rare ikat textiles from the Pusaka Collection show diversity and exchanges among Indonesia's islands at HKU

September 4, 2017

 

Fibres of Life: Ikat Textiles of the Indonesian Archipelago (September 15 to November 26, 2017 at the University of Hong Kong's University Museum and Art Gallery) looks at Peter Ten Hoopen’s collection from a scholarly point of view. The dark red bridewealth sarongs, prized and venerated by locals, caught the attention of collectors early on. In contrast, indigo sarongs for everyday use were largely overlooked. With many worn to shreds, few fabrics survive and are now respected and widely sought after. The Pusaka Collection presents a collecting method that has preserved both finery and daily attire.

 

What knowledge is conserved about ikat textiles and their use in the Indonesian archipelago consists primarily of the records of missionary and scientific fieldwork, predominantly compiled by non-Indonesians. The coverage is thin—many weaving regions are covered by only one or two sources, and several regions have never been studied in any detail. Much traditional knowledge is being lost, especially in the more remote island regions in the Indonesian archipelago, which require concerted effort if any trace of their culture is to survive. UMAG hopes to contribute to the broader project by means of this exhibition and publication, which shows ikat culture through a close reading of examples from over fifty weaving regions and a brief introduction to the conditions, beliefs and customs of the various peoples who have created and used them. The Pusaka Collection reveals the stylistic spectrum of the archipelago's ikat, while also showing remarkable correspondences rooted in time or sculpted by inter-island cultural exchanges. It is rich in superb and rare ikat textiles, many with few known cognates and some of them probably unique. [HKU UMAG]

 

Fibres of Life: Ikat Textiles of the Indonesian Archipelago

September 15 to November 26, 2017

University Museum and Art Gallery, University of Hong Kong

For more information about the exhibitions, visit HKU UMAG.

 

 

Borneo (Sarawak)

Iban people

Pua, ritual blanket

Warp ikat in medium hand-spun cotton

1880–1920

 

Intimately interwoven with the ethos of headhunting, this design features large spirit figures (antu) with skull-like heads. Their scaled torsos are probably the weaver’s interpretation of the fish-scale reinforced jackets of Iban warriors. Iban weavers see themselves as operating at the interface of the physical and spiritual worlds. In the process of spiritually empowering textiles, they risk interference from supernatural entities. The figures on the bottom row of this cloth, depicted with one crocodilian and one human hand, probably signal that the weaver was struggling with the spiritual power of the crocodile. Only a weaver of great technical skill and mental prowess could have produced a pua of such size and subject matter.  

 

 

 Borneo (Sarawak)

Iban people

Pua, ritual blanket

Warp ikat in medium hand-spun cotton

1935–1950

 

This large pua is adorned with several distinct figural types. The most prominent have large, labyrinthine faces, and represent giant, ghostly creatures of power encountered in dreams. Such creatures are often associated with deities or ancestral spirits. The smaller female figures on the bottom row have elaborate headdresses and hold human skulls, with other heads lying at their feet. Like Gajaj Meram (the ‘Broody Elephant’), they are shown with larger than normal heads, and may be the weaver’s interpretation of that popular design.

 

 

Flores (Ende)

Endenese people

Luka semba, men’s wrap (detail)

Warp ikat in fine hand-spun cotton

19th or early 20th c.

 

Luxury textiles imported from India were a valuable commodity in Southeast Asia from at least as early as the 14th century. They had a profound impact on local designs. The layout and distinct tumpal (triangular pattern) borders on this luka semba—a cloth worn by male members of the nobility—were inspired by double-ikat cloths from Gujarat called patola. In keeping with the treatment of valuable Indian textiles, the considerable age and fine condition of the wrap indicates that it was probably stored away as a pusaka, an heirloom, for many years.

 

 

Flores (probably Palue)

Palue people

Tama, sarong (detail)

Warp ikat in medium hand-spun cotton

19th or early 20th c.

 

Textiles from Palue in East Flores often feature individual motifs built up using dots and separated by narrow vertical stripes, particularly sarongs. The diamond-shaped lozenges on this example may represent similar hook and rhomb designs in lozenges called ‘kaif’ that are used in various regions on Timor. The large X-shaped designs in the end borders appear to be angular emulations of jilamprang (star) motifs from Indian patola. The indigo accent stripes were probably done in silk coloured with Perkin's mauve and methyl violet—early chemical dyes that were developed in 1854 and occasionally used in the archipelago.

 

 

Flores (Ende)

Endenese peopleLuka semba

men’s wrap (detail)

Warp ikat in fine hand-spun cotton

1910–1930

 

At first glance, this luka semba appears to be dyed in two tones, morinda red and a near-black maroon. Closer inspection reveals the use of yellow for accents—most lavishly in the borders. Yellow dye, made using turmeric, is very rarely seen in Ende semba. In the Lesser Sundas (except Timor) it is reserved for the highest levels of society. The influence of Indian textiles on Ende weaving is seen in the patola-inspired array of floral lozenges on the main design and the triangle-shaped tumpal patterns in the borders.

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