Indonesia embraces 13,667 islands stretching from the Malay Peninsula to Australia and is peopled by more than three hundred tribal and ethnic groups. Textiles play an integral role in most of these societies, so this exhibition is but a small sampling of their great variety.
The textiles in this exhibition are primarily garments, but they also have significance as status symbols and as ritual objects. To your right on the south wall are songket textiles, richly brocaded with gold supplementary wefts. Traditional Samatran and Balinese women's sarongs worn for festivals and weddings are valued for the gold or silver woven into them and form part of a woman's wealth.
Batik textiles, made by drawing patterns in wax on the cloth before dyeing, had primary value as status symbols in the more urban societies of North and Central Java. Certain patterns were reserved for members of the court and symbolized the wealth and power of the ruler. Others served as ritual garments for Muslim ceremonies and were worn as headcloths by devout men. Batik textiles also formed part of the personal wealth of women.
On the north wall of this gallery are ikat-dyed textiles, woven by women from some of the smaller islands of Indonesia. The patterning of these textiles is tie-dyed onto the warp threads before the cloth is woven. The inevitable slight misalignment of the woven threads gives a subtle, blurred effect. The traditional patterns of these textiles (the major art form in these areas) served to announce the wearer's tribe, district, and status.