Tag Archives: Indonesia

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What to make of 2014

Master batik artist Tony Dyer with a young Japanese textile student at the Semarang International Batik Festival in May 2013

Master batik artist Tony Dyer with a young Japanese textile student at the Semarang International Batik Festival in May 2013

One of the major events of 2014 will be the Golden Jubilee of the World Crafts Council, which will be held in Dongyan, China, 18-22 October. It will be very interesting to see how the Chinese presidency of WCC uses this unique occasion to promote local craftsmanship. One day ‘Made in China’ may be something that actually adds value to a product.

The China event will be an important occasion to present the Code of Practice for Partnerships in Craft & Design, which has been developed over the past three years of discussions that were part of Sangam: Australia India Design Platform. We’ll be developing a platform based around those standards to promote fair partnerships between producers and developers. This year, the network will extend to Indonesia, with a workshop at Kampoeng Semarang looking particularly at commissioning of batik artists.

One of the important elements that draws me to craft is the way it engages with tradition. While the modern world encourages freedom, it is hard to conceive of a meaningful life without responsibility. Custodianship gives meaning to our otherwise fleeting lives. And craft traditions require skill and imagination if that are to be something we can pass on to future generations. This involves interpreting traditions through current concerns. As they say, we make it new, again.

This is something quite evident to indigenous peoples, whose own culture is vulnerable to colonisation. Retaining language and custom gives purpose and honour to individual lives in indigenous communities.

By contrast, the dominant white Anglo world seems to require little from us in order to flourish. It runs increasingly on automatic, sustained by machines and global corporations. But there are still buried traditions that we can uncover and pass on. Colonisation involved removing the social value from objects, otherwise considered the primitive domain of fetish or idol. The challenge is to recover social objects such as charms, crowns, garlands and heirlooms that offer a hard currency of interconnection.

Amulets from the Sonara Market in Mexico City - how to turn objects of destruction into agents of good?

Amulets from the Sonara Market in Mexico City - how to turn objects of destruction into agents of good?

The project Joyaviva: Live Jewellery across the Pacific travels to Latin America this year. It will be very interesting to see how these audiences respond to the challenge of designing a modern amulet. Can folk traditions transcend their nostalgia and become relevant elements of contemporary life?

The broader questions associated with this will be played out in a series of roundtables as part of the South Ways  project. This will seek to identify creative practices that are unique to the South. The first one in Wellington will look at the relevance of the Maori ‘power object’, or taonga, to Western art practices such as relational jewellery.

Other projects will help tie these threads together. The performance work Kwality Chai will explore what an Indianised Australia might be like. This relates to the utopia of Neverland, in which Australia becomes a haven for cultures that have no home in the world, such as Sri Lankan Tamils.

Craft keeps us alive to the debt we owe to previous generations. I’m very pleased to be involved with Wendy Ger’s Taiwan Ceramics Biennale where many artists have mastered clay as a language for the unique expression of ideas and values.

So there’s much to be made of 2014. Let’s hope this includes a future for 2015 and beyond.

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Batik Dreaming in Central Java

Dancers at opening of Semarang International Batik Festival

Dancers at opening of Semarang International Batik Festival

Batik is one of the world’s idiomatic crafts. Alongside techniques such as pottery, filigree, ikat, glass-blowing and wood-carving, it is a unique language of expression which has come to define a global cultural inheritance. In a rapidly dematerialising world, as more of life is conducted in the cloud, it is increasingly important that the gifts below that time has bestowed are maintained. Without space for innovation and creative exchange, skills such as batik will cease to play an active role in what we make of our world.

Within the craft canon, batik is particularly expressive. The flow of wax through the canting lends itself to a fluid graphic form, reflecting a sinuous natural world. The history of batik is the story of its surrounding culture: originating in Java, it has been influenced by the traffic of cultures in south-east Asia, including block-printed fabrics from Gujarat, Chinese jewellery and Dutch tastes.

Master Batik artist Abdul Syukur and Yogjakarta artist

Master Batik artist Abdul Syukur and Yogjakarta artist

Abdul Syukur 'Human Diplomatic Art' primishima cotton 105 x 105cm 2012

Abdul Syukur 'Human Diplomatic Art' primishima cotton 105 x 105cm 2012

But there’s also a subtle mystery in batik. Like darkroom photography, it works from the negative, beginning with an inverted version of its final outcome. Unlike more direct techniques such as painting, it requires a greater understanding of the interrelation between many phases of waxing, dyeing and watching. Maybe it’s that consideration of other processes that helps it reflect an interrelation of cultures.

A recent entrant to the calendar of batik events is the Semarang International Batik Festival. Semarang is a city of about 5 million on the north coast of Central Java. Founded by an Islamic missionary in the 15th century, Semarang soon fell under Dutch control and became an important trading centre, attracting Chinese merchants. Semarang shares with the other coastal batik centre Pekalongan a vibrant pesisir style featuring bright colours and graphic forms. Semarangan style batik patterns include the tamarind plant and historic features. However, the other batik towns of Central Java, such as Yogyakarta and Solo have a higher profile. But being overlooked provides the city with a powerful motive to raise its profile, particularly as the capital of Central Java.

Kampoeng Semarang is a hybrid cultural-commercial complex that has been developed by a young local entrepreneur, Miss Wenny. Miss Wenny is a new generation business woman with an interest in civic development. Her Semarang International Batik Craft Centre has transformed what was previously a dangerous area of the city into an active commercial hub. Only a year old, Kampoeng Semarang includes batik shops, restaurant, conference facilities and workshop space.

I’d been invited last year to visit Semarang wearing my World Crafts Council Asia Pacific hat. I noticed that although there seemed to be an active if small batik sector at work, there was little space for it to develop. There was no opportunity to experiment with new designs or products. A festival seemed an important step towards fostering skill development, innovation and increased exposure. To my surprise, KS quickly agreed and set a date in early May, leaving only five months for preparation. I had to credit them their confidence, but I was a little doubtful of what they could achieve in such a short time.

It was clear that we had to quickly mobilise international support for this venture if it was to succeed. The festival had to make the right impression on the local dignitaries if it was to be ongoing. And there was great promise in its future.

For the World Crafts Council, the batik festival was an important avenue for re-activating Indonesia’s presence in the region. While there is strong south-east Asian representation from Thailand and Malaysia, Indonesian participation had declined in recent years. It has been hard to activate the national and regional crafts councils.

Realising this opportunity, the newly appointed Senior Vice-President of the WCC Asia Pacific Dr Ghada Hijjawi-Qaddumi decided to attend with a mission to recruit new representatives. Her warmth and enthusiasm helped support the event greatly, and she even contributed $1,000 towards a prize for batik art in next year’s festival. Dr Ghada was joined by the President of the WCC, Mr Wang Shan, based in Beijing. China is hosting the 50th anniversary of the WCC next year across three cities, and it is important to have Indonesia as a significant part of this celebration of world craft. There was a very neat historical resonance in the WCC presence at this event, reflecting the importance of the Arab and Chinese influences in the development of the region.

Australia is a relatively newer visitor to Indonesia, though now the relationship is particularly strong with growing ties of economy and tourism. There has been a particularly rich history of batik exchange between the two countries. This has included connections with Aboriginal communities such as Ernabella and Utopia, where the batik has been particularly suitable for the fluid nature of art making. And in textile art, the influence of Indonesian batik has been important, reflected in the touring exhibition in Contemporary Australian Batik in 1989.

Now there is scope to extend this partnership to include design. Already there are fashion designers like the Queenslanders Easton Pearson who work with Indonesian batik, but there are many other possibilities for product development. Sangam: Australia India Design Platform has been growing a network of designers and craftspersons interested to collaborate. There is many prospects in expanding this network to include Indonesia.

Here we were fortunate to receive assistance from the Australian Embassy to bring two textile masters. Tony Dyer has been successful in establishing a career in batik art, sustained by overseas collectors. Dyer had last been in Indonesia nearly 40 years ago, when he was just starting his career in batik. We were able to show his work and Tony provided a hands on engagement with participating artists, swapping techniques and discussing the finer points.

Director of Pekalongan Batik Centre Pak Zahir and Tony Dyer

Director of Pekalongan Batik Centre Pak Zahir and Tony Dyer

Tony Dyer swapping ideas with local batik artists

Tony Dyer swapping ideas with local batik artists

Dyer was joined by Liz Williamson, Associate Professor at College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales and a designated Living Treasure of Australian craft .Williamson teaches a unit Cultural Textiles, where students have been traveling to India in order to engage rich living traditions of embroidery and dyeing. The hope was that she would find the right kinds of people and places to bring a contingent of next generation designers to Central Java. She presented her range of Woven in Asia which gave a taste of what a craft-design partnership might entail.

Liz Williamson talking wtih local batik artists

Liz Williamson talking wtih local batik artists

Liz Williamson talking with Chinese and Indonesians

Liz Williamson talking with Chinese and Indonesians

There were some key international players, then, for the all-important Simbolisasi (Gunting pita) opening of the inaugural Semarang International Batik Festival. Around 9am, the dignitaries started to arrive. This included the Governor of Central Java Bibit Waluyo, whose wife heads up the Crafts Council of Central Java. He was joined by the Dr Prasetyo Aribowo, Head of Culture and Tourism, Central Java, Professsor Ahman Sya, Director General of Creative Economy and Esthy Reko Astuty, Director General of Tourism Marketing. It was clear this was an event of national significance.

Professor Ahman, Kevin Murray, Ms Wenny, Ms Wuloyo, Bibi Wuloyo, Dr Ghada, Wang Shan

Professor Ahman, Kevin Murray, Ms Wenny, Ms Wuloyo, Bibi Wuloyo, Dr Ghada, Wang Shan

It was fascinating to witness the graceful nature of a Javanese opening ceremony. As with every occasion, this included elegant young women performing traditional dances. There was a fashion parade of both men and women showing colourful if demure garments by designers Anne Avantie and Ira Priyono. I was particularly surprised to see group prizes for best batik technique—it doesn’t seem the way here to single an individual out for attention. The event was officially opened by the Governor banging the traditional drum, which he did with a trill on the side before heaving into the drum proper. More significantly, he then went to the workshop to sign his name in hot wax, so it could be dyed into a commemorative batik afterwards.

Fashion model for Semarang International Batik Festival

Fashion model for Semarang International Batik Festival

For the next three days there were stalls selling batik and craft products, which helped create a buzz. The live music was particularly good, including some languorous Keroncong, a Latin inspired Indonesian music. As word of the festival spread, high profile batik artists started to appear from the elsewhere region, showing how important such a forum might be beyond Semarang city.

The Governor of Central Java, Bibit Wuloyo checking on the wax before signing his name.

The Governor of Central Java, Bibit Wuloyo checking on the wax before signing his name.

On Saturday night, the reason for the timing of the festival became apparent with the Semarang Night Carnival. This was worth a trip to Semarang on its own. The costuming was inventive and exuberant. An other-worldly blend of traditional and modern music brought it to life. At the final concert, Semarang was sea of colour and movement, undulating to the rhythms of Indo-pop. Who knows what might happen if the batik festival were to form a partnership with the carnival, where it could feature the craft of making costumes.

Semarang Night Carnival

Semarang Night Carnival

On the final day, the organisers met with the international visitors to discuss how their event might develop. It was heartening that they able to accept the shortcomings and see this as a trial run. Much could be achieved quickly by establishing a database of batik artists and creating events like workshops where they could participate. It was clear that there wasn’t a media network that could assist organisations like Kampoeng Semarang to get word out.

Now that the first Semarang International Batik Festival is over, we can start dreaming of how it might develop. Would a prize be important, or is competition against the more collective nature of Javanese culture? Is there scope for individuals to develop pathways into batik as an art form? Would there be interest in collaborations with foreign designers?

One issue that did come up in the discussion was the depth of meaning attached to batik. Traditionally, it is a textile that gives meaning to life, with different patterns reflecting various rites of passage, such as pregnancy. I personally am interested in the labuhan ceremony, where people gather on the beach to throw their troubles in to the sea.

A challenging space has been opened up between the Semarang International Batik Festival and the Semarang Night Carnival—between batik as a product and the rituals that bring people together. There is much life in that space between.

Semarang has shown it is willing and capable of holding an international batik festival. It’s up to us all now to work together and help make the next one realise this promise.


If you have any comments or suggestions for the next Semarang International Batik Festival, please leave them in the comments below.

To stay in touch with future activities of the World Crafts Council Asia Pacific, subscribe to the newsletter at www.australasiancraftnetwork.net.

Thanks to the Australian Embassy, Jakarta, for supporting the Australian contingent, as well as Liz Williamson and Tony Dyer for giving themselves to the event. Pungki Purwito and Riza Radyanto organised the initial tour through Semarang, December 2012. Thanks for Wenny Sulistiowaty and Teguh Imam Prasetyo at Kampoeng Semarang for their commitment to batik. James Bennett and Jan Nealie provided much useful advice on the history of Australian-Indonesian batik exchange. Peter Craven helped greatly with the Indonesian connections. Malcolm Smith offered a warm welcome to Yogyakarta. And special thanks to World Crafts Council colleagues Dr Ghada Hijjawi-Qaddumi and Mr Wang Shan for giving their time to this precious event.

Palapa–Nusantara reunited as jewellery

Anastasia Sulemantoro, Annisa Fardan Nabila,  Aulia Amanda Santoso, Emeraldi Kumastyo Paramaeswara and Maria Yosepha

Anastasia Sulemantoro, Annisa Fardan Nabila, Aulia Amanda Santoso, Emeraldi Kumastyo Paramaeswara and Maria Yosepha

Palapa is the joint effort of five product design students from Bandung Institute – Anastasia Sulemantoro, Annisa Fardan Nabila, Aulia Amanda Santoso, Emeraldi Kumastyo Paramaeswara and Maria Yosepha. Their idea of transforming a traditional myth into a gift emerged from the Transforming Tradition Workshop by Mr. Adhi Nugraha in September 2009.

We know the nutmeg as a spice that drew the Dutch to Indonesia and provided the Dutch East Indies company with much of its wealth, at the cost of many lives. Using carved rosewood, these young designers have now recovered the nutmeg as a symbol of Indonesian unity.

Palapa by Anastasia Sulemantoro, Annisa Fardan Nabila,  Aulia Amanda Santoso, Emeraldi Kumastyo Paramaeswara and Maria Yosepha (etched brass is made by Kriya Nusantara) rosewood and brass, 2010

Palapa by Anastasia Sulemantoro, Annisa Fardan Nabila, Aulia Amanda Santoso, Emeraldi Kumastyo Paramaeswara and Maria Yosepha (etched brass is made by Kriya Nusantara) rosewood and brass, 2010

Their statement

PALAPA begins with the concept of "giving" as it is an Indonesian people nature to give. It is reflected in many Indonesian tradition and lifestyle, from daily activities, to ritual and religious ceremony. Furthermore, it is a common thing for Indonesian to bring gift for closest people, like family and friends after their trip to foreign places.

We choose jewelry as a gift object to be developed, as jewelry is a product designed for exposing itself, and has an ability to create interaction between the user and others using its attractive visual appearance.

The basic form of PALAPA is a sphere sliced into eight pieces. Since sphere has neither front nor backside, dominant wouldn’t exist as all sides are equal.

The eight amount itself comes from eastern spiritual philosophy based on eight wind direction, which also represents eight ethnic group existing in Indonesia based on isle groups and islands in Indonesia; Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, Nusa Tenggara, Bali, Moluccan, and Papua. Each piece expresses the uniqueness of every ethnic group in every island, which is visually represented by its traditional decorative pattern.

As we collected images of Indonesia from all provinces, a combination of brown and golden shade dominate, which underlies us to make the choice of material; rosewood and golden metal.

Traditional pattern metal attached to wooden piece represents every ethnic group is unique, special and has their own characters. This pattern variation will enable people to choose which one represents them best.

Back to the main concept of giving, here every piece is meant to be given to closest persons as a gift from one who has bought PALAPA from Indonesia. Here, the act of giving will make a personal expression in both of the giver and the given one.

The basic structure of PALAPA is to unite all the pieces in one unity, which is a metaphor to Indonesia motto; Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Instead of the differences, stay the unity). Every single piece represents uniqueness and diversity, whereas all the eight pieces are combined, a solid sphere will be formed. It represents unity, since a solid sphere wouldn’t be formed when apiece is missed.

PALAPA pieces are made from rosewood with the traditional pattern shaped metal attached on it. When apiece stands alone, adornment beauty shimmers with sparkle of the metal, yet a sweet humble brown appears when all the pieces are combined, philosophizing; to form a unity one have to forbear one’s ego to accept others.

It is all connected with the naming of PALAPA itself. The word PALAPA comes from Sumpah Palapa from Patih (vice regent) Gadjah Mada who has swore not to eat palapa fruit (nutmeg) before he could unite Nusantara – a term used by Indonesian people to define Indonesian archipelago.

Briefly, PALAPA isn’t only about a gift, or jewelry, but a message for Indonesia and world that together we should advance unity despite of our egos.

Palapa is part of the Welcome Signs exhibition. It reflects the way in which jewellery in the Asia Pacific is drawing inspiration from traditions involving organic materials.

Grees Manupassa–Welcome to Indonesia

Grees Manupassa

Grees Manupassa

Rr. Grees Manupassa S. Sn. – usually called as ‘Grees’ – was born thirty years ago in middle part of Java, Indonesia. While she graduated from the Indonesian Art Institute in 2004, she has been involved in other art events and exhibitions, such as the Yogyakarta Art Festival (2001), Inacraft (Jakarta 2007 and 2008), Visual Art Exhibition EXPOSIGNS (Yogyakarta, 2009). In 2007, she received the award for the best contemporary work in the Mutumanikam Nusantara Jewellery Exhibition (Jakarta).

Her use of filigree in the work especially made for Welcome Signs demonstrates the capacity of silver to reflect the flowing organic forms of nature.

Grees Manupassa ‘Mighty Simplicity’ sterling silver 925 and circon (technic: joining and filigree; finishing: polishing), 2010

Grees Manupassa ‘Mighty Simplicity’ sterling silver 925 and circon (technic: joining and filigree; finishing: polishing), 2010

In her words:

‘The Mighty Simplicity’ is inspired by the well-known local wisdom of Indonesia with its friendly, pleasant and warm characteristics along with beauty of landscapes, cultures and traditions.

Floral arrangements such as jasmines and orchids are often used as welcome signs apart from being used as ornaments in many traditional rituals. This is why I chose these two flowers for my work; they have rare beauty, exotic look also as the icon of Indonesia’ natural wealth.

Within the whole production process that takes about one month long, I find out my own challenge in dealing with complicated yet exciting details. The traditional filigree technique was combined with some other techniques to bring out strong traditional elements in modern look.

I personally wish ‘The Mighty Simplicity’ could represent the civilization, beauty and warmth of Indonesia which is presented to those who are longing to visit Indonesia.

A Sumba welcome–by Fryza Pavitta

Sumbanese Contemporary Narrative Jewellery by Fryza Pavitta

Sumbanese Contemporary Narrative Jewellery by Fryza Pavitta

Fryza Pavitta is an Indonesian jewellery designer currently based in Jakarta. She was born in Samarinda, East Kalimantan. She studied Industrial Design at Bandung Institute of Technology, where she developed a number of jewellery pieces including Zapp, which was a knife turned into a necklace.

She also developed a work of ‘distributed jewellery’ titled Sumbanese Contemporary Narrative Jewellery. The work includes symbols from Sumba culture about mythological forces of earth and sky. According to Fryza:

For Sumbanese, the sky is filled with ‘star dust’, made from souls of ancestors that look down on the living, offering rain as a blessing. This is represented by the silver chain. The earth is a female figure, represented in the U shape of a bowl, filled by the rain. On this are various shapes including living creatures and the omega symbol of woman. Finally there is the level of the sea, which represents potential loss.

Women’s activity is particularly important in this mythology. The weaving of the tenun ikat is symbolic of the string that ties the earth and sky together.

The piece itself is strung together. Components can be detached. The piece is designed to be distributed among others.

Since graduating from Bandung, Fryza worked for several months in Geoti Studio, designing sculptural objects from an ashtray to a city park. With others, she has also shown work about the wedding ring and the hand gestures of a married couple.

Back in Jakarta, she now works for the industrial designer Leonard Theosabrata. She plans to continue with jewellery.

This work will feature in the Welcome Signs exhibition. It’s an interesting example of how the jewellery object can carry a story that connects people together. We can only imagine the very special situation in which it is used and the continuing connection that its owners will experience.

Yayasan Tafean Pah – supporting weavers in West Timor by Ibu Yovita Meta and Ruth Hadlow

News of a valuable new initiative from West Timor that deserves our support:

The weaving traditions in West Timor are very diverse and very beautiful, consisting of hand-made cloth woven on back-strap looms, sometimes still using handspun thread and natural plant dyes. The textiles are woven by village women amongst other activities such as growing crops, caring for livestock, social, domestic and family duties. Weaving skills are passed down from one generation to the next, with most women learning from their mothers, aunties or grandmothers. Traditional hand-woven textiles are still used as garments by many West Timorese for formal and ceremonial occasions, and textiles are still required as tribute for funerals, as part of the bride-wealth exchange in marriage agreements, and for other adat (traditional customary law) ceremonies. Despite this, the weaving traditions are fragile and vulnerable to changes in contemporary life, as the younger generations move away from villages, or become less interested in traditional textiles and the time-consuming techniques of hand-weaving.

Background & Context

West Timor is the western half of the island of Timor, which was colonized and divided by the Dutch and Portugese during the colonial period. West Timor became part of the Republic of Indonesia when it was formed in 1945 as a reaction to Dutch colonial rule. Within Indonesia, the eastern islands (West Timor, Sumba, Flores, Alor, Rote and Savu) are the poorest part of this developing country. The islands of East Nusa Tenggara, or NTT as it is called locally, are much drier and less fertile than those of western Indonesia, and very similar to northern Australia in their climate, geology and vegetation. The island of Timor is predominantly limestone, and does not have the rich volcanic soils of Bali or Java. It has a very long dry season, from April to late November, and is hot and extremely dry for most of the year. The latter part of the dry season is traditionally known as musim kelaparan, or the starvation season, as the only foods available for most villagers are the corn and cassava they have stored from the end of the harvest period. Life for most villagers is very tough and means of generating income are very limited. Many village children do not go beyond a primary school education as their families do not have the resources to support further study. Since the late 1990’s life has been increasingly difficult for the West Timorese, due to a series of factors such as the Indonesian Monetary Crisis in 1997, a rise in the cost of living of more than 500 per cent over the past 10 years, and the withdrawal of aid projects and organisations in the wake of East Timor’s independence in 1999. There is a general lack of knowledge about West Timor caused in part by the attention to East Timor in the news media, and this often makes it difficult for organisations to get external funding or support for their activities.

Yayasan Tafean Pah

Ibu Yovita Meta

Ibu Yovita Meta

Ibu Yovita Meta began the foundation Yayasan Tafean Pah in 1989, working with a small group of weavers from the dry and mountainous Biboki region of northern West Timor. YTP has grown substantially over the past 20 years; it now has a base in the northern town of Kefamenanu and 14 weaving cooperatives with a total of 700 members, spread over the Biboki, Insana and Miomafo regions of TTU (North Central Timor). Yayasan Tafean Pah supports the weaving cooperatives by providing access to thread and dyes, and training in weaving, dyeing and design skills. The foundation also provides cooperative management and basic accountancy training, and very importantly, provides an outlet and market for the beautiful hand-woven textiles which the weavers produce.

In 2003, Ibu Yovita won the prestigious Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development (awarded by the Netherlands government) for the work she has done with Yayasan Tafean Pah. The award was used to develop the Rumah Seni Tafean Pah in Kefamenanu, a cultural centre which includes the YTP office, a multi-functional work space, and a gallery/shop outlet for the textiles and associated products made by the weavers. In 2007, Yayasan Tafean Pah received a grant from the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta specifically for the purpose of creating a collection of traditional hand-woven Biboki textiles. This collection is intended as a permanent resource for the community, ensuring that examples of the techniques, motifs, designs and textile forms unique to Biboki hand-woven textiles are held in West Timor, rather than only in the collections of distant or foreign museums. The textiles which make up the collection were commissioned directly from weavers in the YTP cooperatives, supporting them financially and increasing their sense of pride in their work.

Textiles produced by the weaving cooperatives reflect the traditions which have existed for countless generations in these regions. Some of the weavers specialise in textiles made with hand-spun thread and dyed with traditional natural dyes, such as the rich reddish-brown Morinda Citrifolia, the deep blues of Indigofera Tinctora, and blacks from iron-rich mud. Other weavers use machine-spun thread to create lighter-weight textiles which can be made up into smaller items such as bags and clothing. YTP sells the textiles through its base of the Biboki Arts Centre in Kefamenanu, and through trade fairs and exhibitions in Jakarta and Singapore. With the support of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory there have also been several exhibitions of Biboki textiles from Yayasan Tafean Pah in Darwin.

The aims of Yayasan Tafean Pah are to ensure that traditional weaving and dyeing skills are sustained, and to support village women to develop economically through their weaving skills. In a culture such as that of West Timor, a woman’s status and standing within a village community increases significantly when her weaving contributes to the family’s economy. One of the YTP cooperatives is comprised predominantly of widows, and most of these women have put their children through senior high school and university on income derived from their weaving activity. Due to the success of its existing cooperatives, YTP is continuously requested to take on new groups, some of which have little prior weaving or dyeing knowledge. Although this is a huge burden on the organisation, it also indicates the potential for a remarkable revival and continuation of skills and traditions.

Friends of Yayasan Tafean Pah

Yayasan Tafean Pah has no continuous funding and relies on sales of textiles to support its ongoing activities. Any new initiatives require external funding as the foundation survives on a day to day basis due to the unpredictable nature of selling textiles. Because of the difficulties of this situation we have decided to begin a support project called Friends of Yayasan Tafean Pah. Through an informal network of email lists we will regularly send out information about specific projects and activities which YTP wishes to seek funding for. A data base has been set up to record information about all donations and ensure transparency. Friends of Yayasan Tafean Pah has been created by Ibu Yovita Meta and Ruth Hadlow with the intention of helping YTP to source funding through Australian textile networks and other interested parties. Ruth Hadlow is an Australian artist who has been resident in West Timor since 2001. From 2005-2009, Ruth and her Timorese husband Willy Daos Kadati ran Babes in Timor/Mepu Mfe Fafi, a small aid project dedicated to supporting the West Timorese community through donations of piglets from Australian sponsors. Ruth Hadlow and Willy Daos Kadati run textile and cultural tours to West Timor and other parts of eastern Indonesia, and have had a close relationship with Yayasan Tafean Pah for a number of years.

If you would like to become a member of Friends of Yayasan Tafean Pah, you can contact us directly, or simply continue to receive our emails and respond as you wish to the various projects. If you have friends or family whom you think may be interested, please pass this information on to them. If you do not wish to receive emails from Friends of Yayasan Tafean Pah, please let us know and we will take your address out of the email list.

YTP project: Training Young Weavers

Yayasan Tafean Pah plans to begin a training program in the latter part of 2010, with the aim of training young women in weaving skills. There are 4 main weaving techniques used in the TTU region of West Timor: futus (warp ikat), sotis (float or pickup warp), buna and pa’uf (discontinuous supplementary weft techniques). Each of the techniques is slow and time-consuming, requiring patience and attention to detail. The majority of weavers in West Timor are older women, a matter for some concern as the weaving traditions could disappear within a couple of generations if younger women do not take up weaving. Due to the success of the existing YTP weaving cooperatives, it has become visible to the broader West Timorese community that woven textiles can provide a useful source of income. This provides a good incentive for encouraging young women to learn weaving skills as a realistic alternative to other types of income-generating work which require them to leave their villages.

Yayasan Tafean Pah intends to start the training program with groups of 10—15 young women who will be paired with experienced weavers, either in their village setting, or at the YTP Centre in Kefamenanu. The young women will begin by learning basic weaving skills, and also, if they choose, they can learn to hand-spin cotton with a drop spindle (a difficult process if you didn’t start at age 5, as some of you know!). If the young women already have some basic weaving skills, they will be trained in more complex techniques such as buna, pa’uf or sotis to increase their skill base.

The training will take the form of 5-day intensive programs, after which time the young weavers will be encouraged to continue their work independently, and the results will be assessed by YTP once the woven textiles are finished. If they require or request further training, they can undergo a second stage of training to increase their weaving skills, or begin producing textiles under the supervision of a YTP weaving cooperative. In the long term it is hoped that the young weavers might start new weaving cooperatives or join existing ones, as a means of developing and marketing their work.

In order to run the training program, funding is needed to cover the costs of transport, food, and wages for the weaving teachers, who will give up their own weaving time to train the young women. A wage also helps to acknowledge the skills and experience of the older weavers, encouraging the community to value and respect the women’s textile skills and perceive these as an important source of income. YTP is hoping to take on between 60-100 young women in the training program at the first stage, making this quite a large and ambitious project which is intended to have a major effect on the survival of the weaving traditions in the TTU region of West Timor.

If you are interested in supporting Yayasan Tafean Pah in this program of training young weavers, please use the form on the following page to make a donation.

We would like to thank you for your interest in the activities of Yayasan Tafean Pah. If you visit West Timor and can come as far as Kefamenanu, we would love to meet you and introduce you to some of the weavers you have generously supported.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Ibu Yovita Meta & Ruth Hadlow
Kefamenanu, West Timor


To contribute to this valuable project, please contact Ruth Hadlow at friendsofytp@yahoo.com

Welcome Signs – early notice

Var mala exchange of garlands at Indian wedding (photo by k♥money on Creative Commons license)

Var mala exchange of garlands at Indian wedding (photo by k♥money on Creative Commons license)

Var mala exchange of garlands at Indian wedding (photo by k♥money on Creative Commons license)

Early notice of an exhibition of jewellery from the Asia Pacific region

The World Craft Council are hosting a conference in New Delhi, 4-6 February 2011. The event is titled Abhushan: Tradition & Design – Dialogues for the 21st Century. A key element in this event is a series of exhibitions surveying jewellery from different world regions.

For the Asia Pacific region, works will be gathered that respond to the theme of welcome, using the garland as a reference. These garlands are typically given to honoured guests and are either made of flowers or have a floral design.

At a time when there are tensions regarding global migration flows, it seems important that we sustain traditions of welcome. But given limited access to flowers, are there alternative materials that can be used? Also, can these otherwise ephemeral works be transformed into longer-lasting objects, such as jewellery, that can testify to bonds of friendship.

The Asia Pacific region has a rich set of traditions that bestow a garland or neck-wreath. These include:

  • var mala ceremony in Indian weddings
  • phuang malai Thai garland
  • East Timorese tais
  • salusalu welcome wreaths and leis from the Pacific
  • selendang (welcome) in Indonesia
  • medals in Australasia

The exhibition Welcome Signs: contemporary interpretations of traditional garlands will contain works that draw from such traditions for use today. At early this stage, expressions of interest are welcome. Please send them by 30 June 2010 to welcome@craftunbound.net.

Authentic punk, handmade with attitude in Indonesia

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Danius Kesminas embodies some of the wilder energies of the Australian cultural scene. The tireless Melbourne artist is very much embedded in the art world – his exhibitions in a cutting edge commercial art gallery quote from modernist art history. Yet Kesminas’ work is far from pretentious: his many projects set about attacking art’s elitism by popularising its most privileged secrets. His weapon of choice is rock music, particularly Punk. His band Histrionics perform songs about revered contemporary artists, like the Thai relational artist Rirkrit Tiravanija who transforms galleries into restaurants. The lyrics follow a familiar tune: ‘I don’t like Rirkrit, no, no / I love him, yeah /I don’t like your bean curd / Don’t mean no disrespect / I don’t like your tofu / If this dish is an art object.’

Kesminas shares a Lithuanian background with the founder of the Fluxus movement, George Maciunas. He acknowledges Fluxus in the project Vodka Sans Frontières, which traces an illegal vodka pipeline that travelled under Maciunas’ house in Vilnius. But in a different way, Kesminas’ work also seems quite at home in an egalitarian country like Australia, where the elitist authority of global visual arts has relatively little purchase.

So we might be surprised to learn that Kesminas has commissioned work from traditional Indonesian artisans. This would seem exactly like the kind of naive ‘politically correct’ art world project he would make the target of his satire. Despite its seeming worthiness, Kesminas has been able to develop an anarchic mode of collaboration which challenges our understanding of what it is to work with artisans.

At the end of 2005, Kesminas arrived in Jogjakarta for a three month Asialink residency. His only preparation for the new culture was reading a book, The Politics of Indonesia, by Damien Kingsbury. It was a dense read, filled with acronyms. Despite their inscrutability, these acronyms would later end up being an important creative resource.

Soon after he arrived, Kesminas started hanging out at the local art school. There he found a familiar scene of young rebels playing aggressive rock music. So he decided to form a band of his own and went about recruiting musicians, with immediate success. As Kesminas didn’t speak any Indonesian, they created lyrics together that were inspired by the acronyms he had read. Fortuitously, this method corresponded with a local word game plesatan, which sends up official language. For example, the song TNI is based on the acronym that stands for Tentara Nasional Indonesia (Indonesian National Military) but which is sung as Tikyan Ning Idab-Idabi (Poor but Adorable). In a similar vein, the band adopted the title Punkasila, which is drawn from the concept pancasila, the official five ideological tenets of Indonesian nationalism.

Danius Kesminas with locals celebrating the carving of the Punkasila emblem (photograph supplied by artist)

Danius Kesminas with locals celebrating the carving of the Punkasila emblem (photograph supplied by artist)

Danius Kesminas with locals celebrating the carving of the Punkasila emblem (photograph supplied by artist)

Local involvement in Punkasila expanded rapidly. A batik artist produced the band uniform in military camouflage. A wood artisan carved elaborate machine-gun electric guitars from mahogany. Others produced t-shirts, stickers, videos, etc. Much of this was well beyond Kesminas’ control, but this was exactly as he wanted it – ‘you’re a catalyst lighting this wick.’

Like many foreign artists, Kesminas enjoyed the freedom to make art in Indonesia. He contrasted this with the situation in a country like Australia where everything has to be paid for – ‘over there it’s different. You just do things because you do them.’

Artisan designing machine gun guitar with skeptical mother (photograph supplied by artist)

Artisan designing machine gun guitar with skeptical mother (photograph supplied by artist)

Artisan designing machine gun guitar with skeptical mother (photograph supplied by artist)

Given the role of the military in Indonesian life, Kesminas was afraid their provocative repertoire would endanger his collaborators. He claimed that he ‘always had to defer to them for limits. We never did anything they didn’t want to do.’ Yet at the same time, he recognised that his role as an outsider was critical: ‘There was a nice unspoken agreement. I gave them a kind of cover, as a naïve Westerner.’ It’s hard to tell who is using who in this situation. Even though punk is an identifiably Western popular movement, Kesminas associates it more broadly with a DIY principle of cultural independence. Like the paraphernalia that was locally made for Punkasila, it represents self-sufficiency in culture and defies a reliance on imported readymade products.

For Kesminas, the most significant complaint against Punkasila came from ‘NGO do-gooder missionary types’ who thought he was showing disrespect for Indonesian culture. Kesminas would claim that he actually more respectful by following the authentically carnivalesque nature of Indonesian street culture. According to this line, what we normally associate with Indonesian traditions, such as Wayang, is just a cultural commodity sustained for Western tourists. The real life is on the street.

There’s plenty to suspect Kesminas of. ‘So he likes the fact that they don’t have to be paid! But, hey, doesn’t he end up marketing their product in his exhibitions back in Australia?’ This line of interrogation seems to be missing the point, and indeed play into the very stereotype of political correctness that Kesminas’ satirises. As far as I know, the work based on Punkasila has not sold. In the meantime, Kesminas raised money for his fellow band members to participate in the Havana Biennale, which profiled them on an international stage. Sure, it all contributes to his cultural capital, but compared to other artists who use artisans like Jeff Koons, it’s relatively high on the scale of collaboration.

Indeed, there’s something quite refreshing about Punkasila. It makes us re-consider whether work with artisans must only be in forms that they are familiar with. It adds a pinch salt to our sanctimony and a dash of chili in our philanthropy.

Danius Kesminas with fellow Punkasila band members in Havana, Cuba (supplied by artist)

Danius Kesminas with fellow Punkasila band members in Havana, Cuba (supplied by artist)

Danius Kesminas with fellow Punkasila band members in Havana, Cuba (supplied by artist)

But in the long run, there may be problems. While an important detour from cultural conservatism, we need to admit a certain guilty pleasure in Punkasila. It shows an image of Indonesian society that reflects back our familiar ideology of Western individualism. In the spirit of good ol’ rock’n roll, we have a natural tendency to champion those individuals who defy authority. We join them in solidarity against local leaders – the patriarchs, warlords and ‘tin pot dictators’.

But who are these foot solders really fighting for in the long term? We need to think of the broader context. Countries like Indonesia face significant pressures from overseas companies to ‘open up’ for ‘development’. So why should the polygamous village elder stop you from selling your land to Monsanto? Who’s the fat old chief to say you can’t sign away royalties for your village’s traditional chant? While rock’n roll is great for breaking things down, such as a military regime, it’s not disposed to building new structures.

Thank god that Kesminas has finally let the cat out of the bag. But the mice better to get organised.

Craft out of the cage – Wanda Gillespie’s marvellous discoveries

Wanda Gillespie is an Australian artist who discovered the Indonesian craft of bird cages during a residency with Asialink. While there she worked with the artisans to create a series of works based on the fictional scenario of an island that exists only in her imagination (and the now the art gallery).

This island of Swi Gunting is the scene of some remarkable discoveries. Included this very early versions of the scissor-lift (see below)…

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You can find out more from her website. You can also see a short film about her stay in Indonesia and work with the artisans here. Or if you are in Melbourne, you can see it at SEVENTH Gallery, 155 Gertrude Street Fitzroy, 3-21 November.

In her invitation, she credits the work thus:

This was a collaborative project with craftsmen from Jatiwangi West Java. Project managers Anex (Nana Sukarna) and Kwa Ping Ho, and craftsmen – Didi, Tata, Ugang, Endany, Entis, Uri, Wawan, Umu. Special thanks to Jatiwangi Art Factory, Arief Yudi, Loranita Theo and Umi Luthfi.

This project was made possible with the help of Jatiwangi Arts Factory, Arts Victoria’s Cultural Exchange fund and the Anthony Ganim Postgraduate Award, (Victorian College of the Arts)

It’s another example of the very creative collaboration developing between Australian artists and Indonesian carvers. Maybe it’s time for a joint exhibition…

Bali carves up the Glick International Foundation

Made Leno works on a sculpture of Rodney Glick

Made Leno works on a sculpture of Rodney Glick

You come up with a brilliant idea. You find someone with the skills to realise that idea perfectly. You work out a fair price. While the person is completing the job, others discover your idea and start copying it. Should you try to stop them, or risk your singular idea now just being one of many? This is the problem that Rodney Glick found having his art made in Bali.

I think Rodney Glick is one of Australia’s most interesting artists. I’m usually left cold by conceptual work, but Glick’s installations always leave me with a strong sense of non-being – others might call it spiritual. His public art at Subiaco Station using close circuit cameras created something transcendent from an everyday commute.

But more than just an individual artist, Glick also creates spaces for others to create in. He first came to prominence in the eastern states with the Glick International Collection, a purely fabricated international collection along with fictional artists and writers. Following that, he established a colleague Marco Marcon a residency program in a small wheat town in the middle of nowhere – Kellerberin. I guess while so many artists on the west coast (and east coast) of Australia are striving to be somewhere (i.e., Venice or New York), Glick is attracted to the nowhere places. There it’s possible to construct something new.

I’ve never connected Rodney with craft before, but his most recent series has strong relevance to new practices involving collaboration with traditional artisans.

Rodney Glick is one of an increasing number of artists working with Indonesian artisans, particularly wood carvers. For a recent Perth exhibition, Rodney commissioned a Balinese wood carver Made Leno from Kemenuh south of Ubud. He asked Made Leno to carve a life-size version of the multi-armed Hindu god, but based on likeness of Western figures, including himself. This involved quite a technical leap, as traditionally these statues had been made only of iconic divine figures. There was quite prolonged and open negotiation about price and cultural sensitivity, and with time a beautiful carved figure began to emerge.

Glick was concerned that these works would be seen as disrespectful. However, when he inquired about this, he was surprised to see how warmly they were received: ‘While the sculptures do show Western people in poses that suggest Hindu gods, or in one case Buddha, they have been generally seen in Bali not as suggesting that their gods have been belittled, but rather as suggesting a divine presence that is in everyone and that links all humanity.’

Made Leno negotiates with Chris Hill about the carving job

Made Leno negotiates with Chris Hill about the carving job

Second time around, Made Leno works with a written contract - much better

Second time around, Made Leno works with a written contract - much better

But there was one problem – though it was more a result of the work’s positive reception, than any complaint. A nearby stone carver started also to make likenesses. Local Balinese soon started to inquire whether they could have statues made of their family in this manner. Rodney became concerned about this. According to his collaborator Chris Hill, ‘We have talked to the carver about this and he accepts our point of view that Rodney should retain some control over works done according to his idea, not because he wanted some financial reward but to protect the integrity of the concept.’ They cited the uncontrolled production of Australian Aboriginal artefacts in Bali as a sign of how copying can get out of hand.

Rodney is not dogmatic about this control. He has become involved in many other projects in Bali. As well as showing the work locally, he has helped start up valuable agricultural projects.

But this case does reveal a contradiction between the Balinese and Western creative economies. Artists like Rodney are attracted to Indonesia partly because of the ease with which it is possible to get things done. Artisanship there doesn’t come with legal strings attached: no contracts are necessary – it’s a personal thing . Yet taken to its limit, such a system can undermine the Western creative economy that artists like Rodney depend on. If the market is flooded with imitations of his work, then the one-off art works are in danger of losing value.

These figures formed a series called 'Everyone' that were included in the God-Favoured exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Gallery.

These figures formed a series called 'Everyone' that were included in the God-Favoured exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Gallery.

Rodney has to survive as an artist too. He’s one of Australia’s most creative and interesting artists, but he’s certainly not wealthy.

So what’s the ethical course of action here? Does Rodney have the right to prevent unauthorised use of his idea? In China, manufacturers can offer discount rates to produce branded goods because they get tooled up then to produce cheap imitations free of royalties. This proves unsustainable – in the end, everyone loses.

In addition, where do we place Glick’s work in agricultural development? Is that just a side effect resulting from his human response to the world he discovered. While Glick would most likely dismiss this as just his own personal intervention, is it possible to see this contribution as integral to his work, in the same way that we might see the Fair Trade label as part of the experience of eating the chocolate inside its wrapping?

I guess that we ask all these questions is part of the value of Rodney’s work. It’s an open dialogue at the moment. Lena Mado has been commissioned for a new series of works. Something’s working.