Magical textiles by Indonesian women

Category: Exhibitions

by Tim Steinert, Carpet Collector

Rotterdam’s Wereldmuseum features works of art from around the world. The museum thus offers insight into the spiritual significance that items have in the cultures that created them. Part of the collection focuses on Asia and Oceania.

The large special exhibition Magie van de Vrouw (“The Magic of Women”), which began in April of this year and can still be seen until September 9th, promises magic and mystery. The exhibition focuses on jewellery and textiles made by and for women in the Malay Archipelago. Ritual textiles, diadems and sarongs tell of initiation rites, weddings and funerals in Indonesia and Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Bali and Borneo.

Waist cloth
Waist cloth

There are, for example, shawls from Sumatra, which women receive from their parents in the decisive seventh month of pregnancy. The textile is said to have magic powers; it is supposed to protect the young woman and her family for a lifetime. Other textiles equip their wearers for passage to the afterlife. After they die, noble women are shrouded in especially elaborate cloths so that their status will be recognised on the “other side”.

In Indonesia and the Malay Archipelago, textile production is traditionally reserved for women. The entire process from dyeing and spinning to weaving and designing is considered a spiritual act symbolising fertility and birth, and which allows the craftswomen to contact spirits. Tradition requires every young woman to have made at least one piece of material before she is allowed to marry.

Ceremonial cloth. Sumatra
Ceremonial cloth. Sumatra

The pieces displayed in the exhibition are from the museum’s extensive inventory and major private collections. Indian, Chinese and even European influences are noticeable.

To accompany Magie van de Vrouw, a large-format, elaborately designed catalogue provides an introduction to the topic. Numerous pictures of the textiles and jewellery in the exhibition illustrate the most important stages in life: birth – initiation rites – marriage – death.

Special exhibition: Magie van de Vrouw
Location: Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam
Dates: 5 April to 9 September 2012

Tim Steinert, Editor-in-Chief, Carpet Collector

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