November 18, 2023

Knowledge over ignorance*

Decorations for sale for Deepavali

Pop-up sister exhibition of 'Masa depan batik' at aNERDgallery

Sitting in BatikAir for my return flight to Jakarta after a week+ in Singapore. It was absolutely wonderful to be back in this city and meet up with textile friends.
Tony of aNERDgallery put together a lovely weekend to celebrate Batik & my return. I had a full schedule with talks, museum visits, even a depot visit and catching up on the latest projects happing. I will miss a full Saturday celebrating Kebaya in Singapore > go check out the exhibition ‘Gaya Kebaya, 130 years’. Also catch aNERDgallery with Meet the Makers at the Boutique Fair. But of course looking forward to my own workshop making paper sarongs at Erasmus Huis on this Saturday, 17 November.

Tony of aNERDgallery & aNERDstore welcoming the guests

Pop-up sister exhibition of 'Masa depan batik' at aNERDgallery

Hafiz Rashid always dressed stylish in traditional inspired wear

Research workshop at aNERDgallery

Talking about the future of Batik

I arrived a week ago on Thursday. With the MRT, local public transport, I made my way to aNERDstore. Tony of aNERDgallery just got the keys of the place when I was here in 2022, so it was great to see the transformation. I got to hang several pieces of Batik I brought with me from the same makers featured in my exhibition, so by Ibu Ramini, Mbak Eka, Ibu Siti, Mak Sium and Mbak Nurul. In the front of the store Tony has all kinds of items made with textile from mostly Indonesia; clothing, jewellery, bags, scarfs and uncut kains. In the back he does exhibitions and workshops. 
It was so nice to have this little pop-up sister-exhibition of ‘Masa depan Batik’. On Friday we opened with a session talking about the Future of Batik. Wonderful to share a little bit more on the ideas behind the exhibition, the worries about batik and how it is going with the exhibition. 
In the evening we had the Batik Friends Fridate and the batik friends not only turned up, but also shopped! So happy to see the pieces I brought were liked here so much. So much so that Hafiz Rashid who was preparing his tales for the storytelling event had to change it two times since the items he wanted to talk about got sold. 
On Saturday I did the Batik research workshop. I really enjoying giving this workshop, and glad I get to do it two more times on Java. The idea behind the workshop is to work in a more hands-one way with a database. With questions to answer using the digital database of Wereldmuseum  and provided sources, the participants get an introduction in not only how to use the database, but also on why certain things might not work. Of course this is based on my personal experience using these databases and sources. One participant was saying; “That is why I couldn’t found so much!”. Looking forward turning it in a digital version when I return. Read more on the previous workshop here in my post.
On Saturday evening we had the storytelling session. It was so exciting to work with Hafiz Rashid on this. We had a WA call two weeks before I came to share the optional pieces, and because of as Hafiz would call it ~ a happy problem ~ some of the pieces he selected were already sold. While he had to improvise, it was great and well prepared. His stories are local folktales, fairytales if you will and give an interesting dimension to the batiks. It is not necessarily based on the actual story behind the work, but more a reaction to what he sees. I responded to the stories telling a little bit more about the maker with a personal anekdote. I think my favourite was the one of the little mouse-deer Kancil that was surprisingly dark and gruesome. He told it with the batik of Mak Sium on which she depict ‘Roban forest’ which has a darker, mythical undertone. It fitten really well and it made us chuckle. 
I enjoyed having this as a grownup activity, we sometimes forget importance of storytelling, not just of historical facts, but also in a more fun, relax way using old folktales. 

Photo wall at Peranakan Museum

Fun kebaya at the Peranakan Museum

Full set of Nyonya Ware

On Sunday me and Tony went to the Peranakan Museum. It opened up recently after being closed for a while for renovations. The museum is pretty small, but housed in a nice building. The first floor/entrance is all about “What is an peranakan?”. It tries to show a multicultural display of the different peranakan communities, but of course the museum focus on one, the most well-known one, that of the Peranakan Chinese community. In this part of the exhibition are also many photos from the collection. They are displayed covering the walls and on screens you can get more info, or at least the info from the database. 
The other floors show objects related to Peranakan Chinese culture such as ceramics {nyonya ware}, furniture and jewellery, of course to wear there are items that are beaded, batiked, embroidered & laced. 
To my surprise the room displaying batik was divided into ‘Indo-Dutch batik makers’ ~ ‘Peranakan Chinese batik makers’ ~ Pesisir & Principalities’ {Why not Javanese makers?} and ‘Batik as Furnishings’. An even bigger surprise was finding the term Batik Belanda used to describe the batiks with a European influence.

Batik workshops established and run by Indo-European women were in operation from around the mid-19th century into the first decades of the 20th century (before the Japanese occupation of Singapore).
Popularly called "Batik Belanda", the batiks created by these workshops often depicted motifs inspired by Dutch fashion and craft magazines, as well as Christian symbols and scenes from European fairy tales. Other innovations included the introduction of a lace-like border with scalloped edges.

I gave last year a talk at ACM on this topic and it was before the museum re-opened. 
But there is more. 
How can you explain on a sign that Indo-Europeans make batiks with European motifs while the work of an Indonesian maker, of whom we sadly know nothing, is in the same room, from the exactly the same time With A Snow White batik! The batik with Snow White by batik entrepreneur Soediro is classified as a ‘Tiga Negeri’, what? 
Yes, it was a trend, and yes it was European inspired, but stop this racializing narrative on these makers. We need to really re-tell this history and let go of the way it was introduced by Veldhuisen in his book ‘Batik Belanda’. But for now I am happy with a removal of just Batik Belanda of the text sign ;). It was the populair term for imitations from Europe, never before 1993 for the batiks from Java with a European influence in the motifs.     

Eversince the start of my project together with Dido Michielsen on ‘The meaning of the white kebaya’ I was excited to go to Singapore.
In the Peranakan Museum was of course a lovely display of kebayas. One display showcasing different styles had no less than 4 white kebayas, but only 2 would be identified as “European style”. I had already some short chats during the days before, and looking forward continuing them in more depth. A version was also worn in Singapore, it was used by different groups and when it exactly started is still unclear, but already some useful suggestions were made. It will for sure already bring an, I think, new perspective. But first more work on this. For now just enjoying what I got to see.

White kebayas at the Peranakan Museum

Making Rangoli for the celebrations

After opening shop, in the evening we went to see the Deepavali celebrations.
Diwali (English: Deepavali) is the Hindu festival of lights with its variations also celebrated in other Indian religions. It symbolises the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance".*
aNERDstore is right next to Little India and the decorations were already everywhere, even actual rangoli (temporary floor decorations) every day in front of the stores. 
The Indian Heritage Center was open for free on Sunday. It has a great display of objects and stories related to the Indian community in Singapore. 
I feel in the Netherlands, or Europe for that matter don’t really have these kind of places and after this week in Singapore I really wonder why… We don’t even have room for other holidays to be actual free days. 
I am not saying that Singapore is perfect, there is also here a lot of “othering” and exclusion, but the ways these different cultures seem to be celebrated is refreshing. 
I guess the “knowledge over ignorance” hits at the core.

On Tuesday I was invited to give a talk at the Eurasian Association. Hafiz came with the suggestion to share my research there and it seemed as an interesting place to raise some of the questions I have regarding how we now tell batik history and specifically the history of the European influence. 
They announced my talk as a Kebaya talk, so because it was mostly batik talk, I wore my new kebaya again. 
In the audience we had apart from the Eurasian society members, also some of the nyonya’s in their colourful kebayas & batiks and many dosens, as in guides for museums. They had by far the most questions afterwards, especially since terms like ‘Batik Belanda’ are specifically taught to them to explain in tours. I loved that one asked; “Sabine, what are you debunking next”. I explained, it is not so much on proving something is not true, it is much more finding a layered story. And yes, something things are just wrong, and we can put them right. One talk at a time.

Group photo after my talk

On Wednesday morning got a tour through the Heritage Conservation Centre, the place where 100,000 artefacts are kept from about 7 museums. From paintings to giant metal sculptures, from old wooden furniture to fashion and everything else and more. I always love seeing a new depot, and in this case, restoration and research center. Sufiyanto who is a restorator there, gave us the tour and shared more on their work and future plans. Exciting batik donation has been added and cannot wait to hear more about it! A morning well spend!

In the evening I was invited for the opening of the new exhibition at ACM. I didn’t manage to see the exhibition, it was very busy. But got a sneak peek of an exhibition instead I was otherwise going to miss. So I returned the next afternoon to ACM. Since I only saw ‘Batik Kita’ last time, three times, I decided to begin at the beginning and just do the whole building. 
I am so happy I did that, because besides great objects, I ran into some batiks & other textiles I have to do continue research on. So basically homework… Patola keep following me this trip. Not the real ones, but the European imitations. Which is great, only now to find time to dive into it more. 
Highlight at ACM is for sure the current fashion exhibition, all the way upstairs, ‘Textile masters to the world, the global desire for Indian cloth’ which shows in a pretty small space how divers this worldwide trend was. The shown pieces are just stunning. 
Also a new book was published of an exhibition of 10 years ago ‘Patterns of Trade, Indian textiles for export’. A dream of a book!

I am back in Jakarta, hope to meet & see you here! Thanks Singapore, and thanks Mas Tony, it was wonderful to be busy together. Cannot wait to return!

Spot the mina bird

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like your observations. Food for thought. Looking forward to seeing your exhibition in the Erasmus House.