Indonesian Textiles at the Tropenmuseum
Presented by Itie van Hout Saturday, February 22, 2020, 10 am Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum
Admission: Free for current members of the TAC; $5 for students and members of FAMSF; $10 General Admission. Cash or checks only; tickets sold at auditorium doors.
The collection of Indonesian textiles at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam is a unique material archive in which historical and anthropological knowledge relating to Indonesian art and culture, as well as to political, economic and museological knowledge is preserved. The collection is comprised of everyday and ceremonial clothing, ritual textiles and tools used to produce the textiles. The nearly 12,000 textiles from Indonesia were collected over a period spanning more than 160 years. The majority were brought to the Netherlands when the Indonesian archipelago was a Dutch colony, the Netherlands East Indies.
Dutch interest in Asian textiles, albeit purely economic, started more than four centuries ago. The writer of a travelogue from 1595 mentions the exquisite, richly decorated costume of a Sumatran sultan and highly praises the technical skills of weavers on Bali. In a later period, the 19th century, also scholarly and artistic interest arose in the cultural traditions of the archipelago. An interest which exists to this day.
The rich variety, the technical perfection and deep colours, the unknown motifs and pattern arrangements of Indonesian textile art, enchanted many Westerners. Scientists, colonial administrators, Catholic and Protestant missionaries, soldiers, entrepreneurs and private collectors took textiles, manageable and relatively easy to transport, back to the Netherlands. Packed in a suitcase or trunk, on their journey the textiles lost the function they had in their original context. Once unpacked in Europe, many ended up in museums where they, just as in their cultures of origin, were handled with care as objects to preserve for future generations but also to admire and study. The textiles acquired a new meaning in those days, they became representatives of distant, often unknown cultures and of the Netherlands as a colonial empire. They have become museum objects, studied and exhibited according to the in the course of time changing views of social scientists and curators.
In this lecture the focus is on collecting; on collecting Indonesian textiles; on the ideas and motives of the collectors who brought together the Tropenmuseum collection and on the Zeitgeist, which conditioned the circumstances of collecting and therefore was of influence on the substance composition of this collection.
Itie van Hout is former Curator of Textiles of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, and is now retired. She published extensively on Indonesian textiles and weaving among others, Batik Drawn in Wax, 200 years of Batik Art from Indonesia in the Tropenmuseum collection, (2001). She is also the author of Beloved Burden. Baby Carriers in Different Countries, (2015).
Image Credits: 1. courtesy of Tropenmuseum ; TM – 1772 – 1529; Ceremonial textile – tampan pasisir; Lampung, Sumatra; Cotton, supplementary weft. 2. courtesy of Tropenmuseum; TM – A – 4961; Tubular skirt, sarung; Lasem, Northcoast Java; possibly made for export to Jambi, Sumatra; Cotton, batik, 194 x 108 cm. 19th century.