Court & Country
The countries of Southeast Asia have long histories of excellence in many art forms, including textiles. The rich beauty of the textiles on display in this gallery testifies to their importance in the lives of the peoples of Southeast Asia. On the mainland, the contemporary nations of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia (in part), Thailand, and Vietnam share languages and cultures that cut cross their current political borders. Thai language groups are found in Thailand and Laos, while Khmer speakers comprise most of Cambodia, but are also found in Malaya (the mainland portion of Malaysia). The Shan people of northern Burma also inhabit northern Laos.
Traditional textile production on the mainland has always been almost exclusively women's work. One common technique creates pattern by tie-dyeing yams prior to weaving. Called mat mii in parts of the Southeast Asian mainland, it is often recognized by its Indonesian name: ikat. Another widespread practice uses weft yams that are supplementary to the ground fabric in order to pattern the cloth. Many variants of both are employed and, together with differences in patterns, fibers, and colors, provide clues to cultural and linguistic identity, as well as the gender of the wearer.
The influence of the Thai aristocracy was felt throughout the region, and many provincial courts emulated the styles preferred in Thailand. Textiles in the Thai taste were also sent from outlying regions to the Thai capital as tribute or for sale. In addition, luxury goods for court use were purchased from China and India, and influence from these areas may be seen throughout the region. Beyond the courts, many traditions and cultures thrived, and in some areas contact with the outside world was rare.