A favorite quote, from Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, describes a single garment of destiny in which we, the human race, are tied. A beautiful, powerful metaphor, to be sure. But that was about the extent of my interest in textiles at the time. And then, little by little, over the years, something clicked.
In Washington, DC, I met a diplomat’s spouse who has devoted herself to promoting and preserving textiles. Separately, a cousin told me about her quilting hobby, and showed me some of her stunning work. These ladies spoke with such passion, I started to pay attention.
In Jakarta, my appreciation has continued to grow. Through Warwick Purser, sometimes likened to Jim Thompson for what he has done to support and promote Indonesian handicrafts, I learned about batiks and lurik fabric, which people have been weaving for over a thousand years, not far from his home in Central Java. I began to admire the local textiles that I initially dismissed.
Not long after, we opened our home for an Indonesian Heritage Society-sponsored talk by Mary Hunt Kahlenberg. An internationally-recognized expert on Indonesian textiles, she was in town to launch her new book, Five Centuries of Indonesian Textiles. She explained her love of Indonesian textiles and revealed some of their ancient stories.
By this time, still trying to figure out what I would do for the next year and a half of my spouse’s assignment here, I had resolved to go out each day and see something different in Jakarta. Inspired by the Rumahku program, the Textile Museum was my next such outing.
It happened that the museum was hosting an exhibition of textiles from ASEAN member countries. It was a fascinating show of color and design, and, true to the exhibition’s theme, a testament to the variety and the similarities among the Southeast Asian nations represented. I get the feeling Dr. King would have approved.
Though the ASEAN Textiles exhibition has now closed, check out the Textile Museum’s permanent collection Tuesdays – Sundays, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, Jl. K. Satsuit Tubun No. 2-4, Phone: (62 21) 560-6613. Admission is Rp 2,000.
(published in The Kayon, Spring 2011)