Creative destruction in West Timor

West Timor textile

West Timor textile

Tais Marobos Raroti Ceremonial Tubular Skirt (2005)

Ruth Hadlow gave a very interesting talk about West Timorese textiles at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop last Wednesday night. The images of textiles that she presented were absolutely stunning, with extraordinary melodies of colour, intricate handiwork and animated designs.

Ruth talked about how integral textiles were to life in West Timor. She mentioned that it was practice in the Indonesian civil service every Thursday to wear clothes that were handmade locally.

One significant demand on textiles was funerals, where they are buried with deceased of importance. At first, it seems a tragic waste to bury thousands of textiles at the recent funeral of an aristocrat. But Ruth observed that this was actually quite a boon for weavers, who then had a lack to fill. That’s quite a different reading to the convention of conservation. To destroy is to sustain.

Despite the integral nature of textiles, Ruth said that there were real problems of sustainability. The average age of weavers was increasing as younger women were drawn more to the cities. The attraction of the city is understandable, with opportunities for better health and education. Ruth felt that the solution was to professionalise weaving so that is seen as a legitimate career. But this was difficult with the lack of sales for expensive items.

Here perhaps is a role for Australia. Even though West Timor does not share the East Timor story of liberation at Australian hands, maybe there’s room for partnership in the future.

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