27 May 2011

Textile Museum

This past Saturday we actually made a cultural excursion, as opposed to the usual settling-in shopping that is most often signaled by our setting foot in the car (tomorrow, for example, we'll be buying the last plant we need for the living room — Michael likes to visit the roadside nurseries — and then taking copies of our newly arrived long-stay visas and blessed work permit to the Duty Free wine and spirits shops that we're now entitled to enter for the first time).

Given that we've decided textiles are one of the few items that we can still add to our overcrowded homes, it seemed a good idea to educate ourselves a bit more about what we'll be buying. As we drove up to Museum Tekstil in Tanah Abang, an area of Jakarta that's home to a huge wholesale fabric market, we both commented on what a classic Dutch colonial building it was. Wrong. It was originally a private dwelling built by a Frenchman in the early 19th century ("French Empire architectural style," according to The Jakarta Explorer). The house has gone through many incarnations, including being bought by the Turkish Council, taken over by rebel groups during Indonesia's post-WWII fight for independence, rented out as an institution for the elderly. A year after the government was handed the deed in 1975, Suharto's wife Ibu Tien opened the building as a textile museum.

Looking back toward the street

Because these open columns let in too much warm sunshine, the edifice used to be spoiled by various types of screens and awnings.

We were interested to see these saloon-style doors, which we had also noticed on Emerald Hill in Singapore.
The permanent collection is housed in modern display cases in another building a few steps away, while the main house is the setting for temporary exhibitions, often of textiles collected and worn by the Indonesian elite. The day we visited, there were two collections on display, belonging to sisters, Raharty Subijakto and Rahmi Hatta. The first was dominantly batiks (Ibu Raharty was married to a Javanese rear admiral), while the second included more ikats (Ibu Rahmi's husband was Mohammad Hatta, Sukarno's vice-president, from Sumatra). Most fabrics were about fifty years old.

The colors and patterns were mesmerizing, but we could only take a few very quick photos.

From Ibu Raharty's collection

Pattern reminiscent of Julia sets
Closer-up view
Mosaic floors competed with the textiles. Unfortunately we don't have any photos of how stunningly different batik patterns (rather like the second two tile combinations here) were paired in outfits that unsurprisingly saw Ibu Raharty on the best-dressed list several times.

From Ibu Rahmi's collection

The permanent collection. This houses textiles dating back to the 18th century, but we didn't notice any that old.

Huge "cap" (fabric stamp, pronounced chop) on display in entry

An Escher-like design

Unusual pattern from Papua

A quiet corner

Stages of batik creation


Natural dyes and a bowl on floor with several "canting" — the small dipper used for dripping wax onto batik by hand

And the pièce de résistance for me: a gorgeous sample bedroom decorated in blue-and-white batik


The sign on the bed reveals that all the batiks are from Parang Kencana, the shop where Libby and I had both splurged on one very expensive contemporary silk batik each. I'll paste a few photos of my prized possession after this.

There was a third outpost, where you could buy textiles and/or try your hand at creating your own. We had never seen people working with canting and wax before.

Waxed cloth

This is the batik teacher, who sold us an old piece from Cirebon.

This was made by hand with a canting, without a pattern. Around fifty years old (i.e. younger than I am but still considered an antique).

Canting statue outside classroom

Batiks drying

A typically lush and colorful Indonesian plant

Area at back of main museum, where we met two elegant and knowledgeable ladies sipping tea, who probably belonged to Himpunan Wastraprema, the Indonesian Traditional Textiles Society.

 "Garden of Natural Dyes"

Despite appearances, this is actually new, crafted in West Kalimantan.

Great photo of textures on one of the less carefully maintained walls. Most pics in this post are c/o Michael.

I'll finish with this wonderfully expressive Indonesian cat that Michael caught at just the right moment. When I sent my friend Carol F., a crony from Lasmo days, a copy of these photos, she wrote, "Ah yes, it's so nice to know that some things never change.  Obviously the pace of life in Indonesia still affords drifting off to a peaceful nap under a shady tree, and hours spent on the 'roosting' benches just watching the world go by.  I think the Indonesians understand something about life that most Westerners don't understand or ignore, that inner urge to just 'idle' like a car at a red light, pausing, ticking over, going nowhere for the moment.   Loved the kucing [Indonesian for cat] photos, so sweet, I'd forgotten how different the Asian cats look with their big ears."

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