Ikat Textiles of the Indonesian ArchipelagoAn archipelago-wide collection
Narrow focus provides fine-grained image
HONG KONG UNIVERSITY
MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY
'Fibres of Life'
15 September - 26 November 2017
Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery
in the fall of 2017 will hold a substantial exhibition of ikat masterworks from the Pusaka Collection titled 'Fibres of Life' and publish Ikat Textiles of the Indonesian Archipelago, authored by Peter ten Hoopen with the help of ten experts on specific weaving cultures. Covering all ikat regions, fully referenced and with a fine-grained index, it is the first comprehensive work on the subject.
MUSEU DO ORIENTE
Museu do Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal, exhibited 80 masterworks from the Pusaka Collection in 2014-2015. Catalogue: Linguagens Tecidas / Woven Languages, 144 pages, with field photography, antique and contemporary, 80 full-page plates, €37.50. ORDER CATALOGUE PRESS COVERAGE
The collection is modest in size, but comprises numerous rare treasures - such as one of the best preserved of only a dozen known 'elephant patola', old birth sarongs from tiny Raijua, late 19th C silk and gold brocade heirlooms from Bangka, fragile double ikat geringsing from Bali, cloths from Borneo that radiate intensity, and old pieces from remote little islands such as Alor, Lembata, Ndao, Pantar, Semau, Solor, Lakor, Babar, and Seram. The collection has uncommon strength in the Moluccas, an area that in most collections is underrepresented. About half of the over forty examples result from the 2016 acquisition of the Moluccas chapter of the J.B. Lüth collection. Another relative strength is Borneo, represented by twenty-five examples, about half of them resulting from the 1982 acquisition of the core of the Wilhelm Bern collection.
The collection is presented island by island, but you may also browse around at random, using the Gallery or the rapid access points above, including the addictive [RANDOM]. For those unfamiliar with ikat textiles, we recommend the menu option 'What is ikat?' To understand the values and aims that shape this collection, read the page on Collecting Philosophy.
Documentation - including social context"Art, any art, requires a comprehensive framework to understand its subtleties, but to understand textiles - potentially the most subtle of personal arts - requires a comprehension of the social life from which these textiles acquire meaning."
James J. Fox (Emery Roundtable, 1979)
We attempt to describe all regions of ikat production, even those that in quantitative terms are meagrely represented. It may seem excessive to write a whole chapter on a region represented in the collection by a just a few cloths - or even a single example as in the case of the islands Babar, Luang, Leti, Lakor and Seram, and the Kalimantan tribal areas Kantu, Ketungau and Mualang - but these textiles are so rare that many major museums with Asian textile collections have not a single one; hence describing them to the best of our ability seems a worthwhile contribution to the collective knowledge base. We apologize that for copyright reasons some parts of this website are limited to scholarly use on application.
Our interest is not limited to the textiles per se: we are equally fascinated by the cultures that produced them. Who are these people who spent months, when not years, working on a single piece of cloth? What are their beliefs, their customs, their drives? In the many short chapters we have tried to distill the essence of what we learned from the various scholars whose works we had access to, from dealers and fellow collectors, and from local people during our collecting trips on the islands.
As for the individual cloths, efforts have been made to provide accurate descriptions, based on a combination of information provided by the sellers (be they original owners or dealers), desk research, and visits to museum reserves, consultation of experts - both in academia and in the collecting community - to specifically vet important pieces, microscopic inspection, and contributions by website visitors kind enough to share specific knowledge of certain textiles. When provenance could not be established beyond doubt, the advice of Yale's Ruth Barnes was followed: "When all else fails, go with the provenance that the cloth came with, as it is likely to be the correct one."
Dating is a sensitive issue, as Indonesian textiles are notoriously hard to date - and in a few cases even hard to place. Our dating is informed by comparison with cognates of ascertained or probable age; by technical aspects such as type of fibre, hand spun yarn versus machines spun (determined by microscopy), and natural versus synthetic dyes; by stylistic aspects such as presence or absence of borders, number of ikated bands, palette preferences; provenance (e.g. dealer records, old German collection, Dutch attic clearance); condition correlated with intended use, an important consideration as ceremonial cloth which is harly ever used can look deceptively young, and a workaday sarong deceptively old after just a few years; where indigo is the dominant tone the presence or absence of skatol in its smell; and several other criteria. The dating is informed by hands-on consultation sessions with one of the world's leading experts - which cynics would say amounts to ecucated guessing squared: when you're wrong you are four time as wrong. Where we do use a concrete year, like 1930, you are to interpret it as the midpoint of a range with about a decade on either side. All given sizes refer to the body of the cloth, exclusive of any fringes.
We strive to provide references to pieces in literature and museum collections for all cloths, annotating the degree of similarity; sometimes using them to undergird our statements regarding motif, origin or dating. Where possible we provide multiple references; this to facilitate scholarly use of the material in our collection. If you notice errors, or can contribute knowledge on certain cloths, e.g. more specific information on origin, tribe, pattern, or tradition, please click on the 'ADD NOTE' button at the bottom right hand corner of the respective page. Your contributions are very welcome.
Collection aims for quality and geographic reach
Moluccas, Luang, 1925-1940
Pusaka Nr. 091
Economic pressures as well have contributed massively to the cultural destruction - islanders simply cannot afford anymore to spend many months of even years producing a heirloom cloth - as but Ruth Barnes, doyenne of ikat scholarship, notes in her seminal article Without Cloth We Cannot Marry:
"The situation at present puts scholars working with contemporary 'traditional' Indonesian art in an impossible position. We feel committed to people whose craftsmanship and mastery of their environment we appreciate. They have given us much, and perhaps we feel that we can only repay them by passing on what we have learned from them. There, however, we are caught; with our publications [such as indeed this website], we inadvertently threaten the cultural heritage of those to whom we owe so much."
While we agree that, paradoxically, any and all attention given to these products of tradition accelerates the unraveling of the culture that produced them, we must also acknowledge that there is a parallel truth. Collectors and curators are far and away the most effective agents in the preservation of the Indonesian islands’ heritage of material culture and, perhaps even more importantly, in its documentation.
While some of the older museum collections have regrettably rudimentary, and occasionally erroneous information on provenance and social import of their textiles because their core was formed by gifts from missionaries to whom the pieces primarily represented objectionable manifestations of 'heathen' ways of life, and at best visually appealing curiosities, from around 1975 onwards the study of Indonesian ikat was taken up with great energy, respect for its social function, and a new sense of urgency due to the realization that both the technique itself and local knowledge about the meaning of motifs were fading fast.
In our view it behoves us as collectors to take care of these heirlooms as if they were our own - in full consciousness that we are merely their temporary guardians - and use them to help create understanding for a culture that had many admirable aspects that, once understood to the full, may inform and inspire our contemporary life.
|Hand spun cotton under 800x magnification.|
|Magnifier||Clicking this icon in page headings opens a page [example] that allows you to view the cloth in high resolution with a digital magnifier by moving your mouse curser over the areas you wish to inspect.
|Microscopic images||Clicking this icon in page headings opens a page [example] with one or more images in 800x magnification which allows inspection of the threads and individual fibres.
|Detail images||Clicking this icon in page headings opens a page [example] with one or more detail images.|
An invitation to contributeThis website, which is expanded and deepened over time in a continuous process of knowledge acquisition and sharing, aims to serve the textile loving community as a clearing house for information on Indonesian ikat. We specifically invite you to visit the Collections and Literature pages - and to suggest additions. Every page describing individual cloths has a little button such as the one below right, which invites you to share what you know. Please do not hesitate to use it, even if the information you can provide seems minor. Any information that can improve the functioning of this clearing house is much appreciated. We thank the growing number of people who have enriched the Pusaka Collection by sharing their knowledge, and hope that our work contributes to the international recognition of the unique beauty of traditional Indonesian ikat textiles.
AcknowledgementsWe wish to thank all those who have enriched the collection by sharing their knowledge, their contacts, or providing moral support. Special mention deserve, salvis titulis et honoribus: Ruth Barnes, Wayne Barton, Joe Bartlett, Koos Bavelaar, Ben Bekooy, Beverley Birks, Aja Bordeville, Francine Brinkgreve, Sofía Campos Lopes, Chris Buckley, Pamela Cross, Toos van Dijk, Geneviève Duggan, Julie Emery, Aone van Engelenhoven, Jill Forshee, Vanessa von Gliszczynski, Freddy Hambuwali, Mark Johnson, Nico de Jonge, Susi Johnston, James Kase, Vernon Kedit, Chandra Iban Kantuk, Brigitte Khan-Majlis, John Kreifeldt, Darrell McKnight, Gregory Nyanggau Mawar, Kay Mertens, Thomas Murray, Michael Palmieri, Lewa Perdomuan, Sue and David Richardson, Susanne Rodemeier, Sandra Sardjono, Miep Spee, Tim Steinert, Dorothé Swinkels, Tina Tabone, Birgit Voss, Marianne van Vuuren, Emilie Wellfelt.
In a category of their own are fellow collector Georges Breguet, who allowed inspection of his vast collection of ikat textiles and has generously facilitated acquisitions of important pieces; Rudolf Smend who supported this project through his belief in it and shared crucial contacts; Steven Alpert who reviewed most old textiles in the collection and offered numerous observations that shed light on details previously overlooked or lacking interpretation; and Gary Gartenberg, our trusted consigliere in matters of collecting philosophy, whose wisdom and values have over the years immensely enriched the 'Pusaka Collection'.
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