To Speak with Cloth : Studies in Indonesian Textiles

To Speak with Cloth : Studies in Indonesian Textiles

To Speak with Cloth : Studies in Indonesian Textiles
Gittinger, Mattiebelle, Ed
Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1989


This book presents an anthology of essays addressing current research interests on
Indonesian textiles by a group of internationally recognized scholars, commissioned by
the UCLA Museum of Cultural History which houses a significant collection of
Indonesian textiles originally assembled in the 1930s with significant acquisitions made
during the mid-seventies to mid-eighties.

Gittinger notes that previous texts on Indonesian textiles tended to be broadly
based, generalizing about many cloth types from various parts of Indonesia. “Happily,
now that textiles are increasingly recognized as primary source material, researchers are asking the questions and obtaining the answers that reveal, even more convincingly, how remarkable and important they are in the socio-religious scene of Southeast Asia….In a larger perspective, the conclusion I hope will be drawn from the entire collection of essays is that textiles deserve to be considered as valuable primary source material, subject to as much scrutiny as kinship structures for the anthropologist and ancient chronicles for the historian.”

On batik, Anthony Forge, Professor of Anthropology at the Australian National
University, in “Batik Patterns of the Early Nineteenth Century,” discusses the earliest
known visual records of particular batik patterns from a collection of carved models or
puppets commissioned by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles during his period as Lieutenant
Governor of Java (1811-1816). Judi Achjadi, a specialist in Indonesian women’s dress
and wedding ceremonies, writes on “Batiks in the Central Javanese Wedding Ceremony,” discussing the traditional uses of textiles for the marriage ceremony, considered the most important event in traditional community life. She presents a good collection of photographs showing the various uses of textiles, as costumes.

Robyn and John Maxwell, in “Political Motives: The Batiks of Mohamad Hadi of
Solo, reflect upon the relationship between politics and art as seen in the batiks of Hadi
during the early 1960s. Hadi, a painter, was a member of the radical Institute of People’s Culture during the 1950s, a group that “rejected the domination of Western cultural and artistic influences and sought to establish the grounds for an independent national culture based upon the interests and shared experiences of the Indonesian people.” While batik in its classical form had become closely identified with the Javanese aristocracy, Hadi sought to use traditional batik forms and infuse them with artistic expressions of the common people. For a short period, until his arrest in 1965, he designed batiks within traditional formats, subtly adapting traditional shapes into new symbols. One example shows how he transformed auspicious elements of the wedding cloth (birds and insects) into symbols of a new social order glorifying the Javanese peasant farmer (ears of corn and stalks of rice). “Hadi’s work…was an example of one man’s attempt to find a continuing vital role for batik in the culture of modern Java as part of Indonesia’s national heritage. Although his designs were unique, they were firmly located within a Javanese tradition. If it is true that batiks and their designs reflect the batik designer’s own innermost wishes, thoughts, and feelings, then Mohamad Hadi’s work reveals a man steeped in Javanese traditional culture and possessed of a strong social and political concern for the plight of the people, particularly the peasant farms of rural Java.”


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