Picture two wide eyed, naive, and excited young Americans arriving in the exotic east and descending from the plane into such heat and humidity that their glasses steamed over and they couldn’t see a thing. This was 1974 when we arrived in Jakarta to teach school for one year. Nine years, two children and many wonderful textiles later, we moved back to the United States.
Shortly after our arrival, we completely fell under the spell of this fascinating, complicated, magical country. Our instant enchantment with Indonesia was deepened when we saw our first traditional textile, a beautiful hinggi from Sumba. We were intrigued and decided that we should learn more about these cloths, innocently thinking it would be a simple matter. As our knowledge increased and our eyes sharpened, we saw how the traditional textiles express the diversity of culture and love of beauty across the archipelago. This small beginning led to a lifelong fascination with this significant national heritage of Indonesia.
For nine years we traveled, went to markets, connected with people, and were invited into many homes. Our quest for unique Indonesian textile art led us to Iban Dayak long houses, Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba, villages in East Sumba, funeral celebrations in Torajaland, and to countless textile shops, dealers’ homes, and markets. Our passion for textiles became an entré for conversations and a prism through which to view and begin to understand the various cultures.
Textile production in Indonesia is, on the whole, a woman’s art and consists of ordinary, mostly unnamed women employing unusual skill to ake extraordinary art. These textiles are not only complex, intricate, and profound reflections of the culture, they are among the most beautiful and varied in the world, reflecting spiritual and visual values and using a wide diversity of techniques and materials.
There is an astonishing variety of everyday and ceremonial uses for textiles across the archipelago. In addition to clothing, textiles are a critical and integral part of important life cycle ceremonies. Textiles are used as decor, trade goods, gift exchange and wrapping, food carri-ers and covers. There are places where the cloth worn signals rank, village, and even family of origin. At the most mystical level, textiles can be used to appeal to ancestors for protection and guidance.
Each piece provides a legacy of textile tradition passed on through the centuries – a legacy of carefully honed skills, a reverence for ancestors and family, and a love of a woman for her daughter.
The textiles displayed on dancingthreads.org represent a very exciting and special time for us; we are thrilled to have the opportunity to share our love of Indonesia and present some of the textiles which have meant so much to us. The pieces on display represent a myriad of discrete techniques including ikat and batik, but also the less well known songket, twining, supplementary warp and weft, couching, embroidery, crochet, pelangi, tritik, and cross stitch. You can see an astonishing variety of materials, including cotton as the most commonly used, but also silk, bark fiber, beads, mica, and threads wrapped with gold and silver among others.
Enjoy your visit.
– DANCING THREADS, Curtis and Margaret Keith Clemson