I met Sebastian Hutabarat in 2003 at an event to call attention to the environmental destruction occurring around Lake Toba. He was a photographer and it quickly became clear that he was artistically very talented. According to the Batak kinship system, because I am an adopted member of the Hutabarat family, he is my nephew. His father, deceased since then, was my brother. His mother showed me her beautiful collection of textiles which she had inherited from her forebears.
In Balige, on our way to the Silindung Valley, yesterday, we dropped in to see Sebastian. He and his wife were building a new house overlooking the lake. A dream was being realized. Sebastian had designed it himself. He wanted a place of beauty in Batak style to promote Batak art. We joked about the process of the construction of his dream: from Bali to Balige. The young papaya trees that he had planted (because they are expensive to buy in Balige, so why not plant them yourself and share the seeds with everybody around?) were doing well. His garden was organic. He had a solar water-heater on the roof and had cleverly re-used some of the wood that would normally be wasted when a house is built. He wanted a place of beauty and health with low environmental impact – and he wants it to be a showcase of possibilities.
His mother was ailing a little, he told me. She was on my list of people to receive a book and he advised me to give the book as soon as possible to cheer her up. He agreed to take the photographs of the event. So we piled back into the car and drove back down the hill to the centre of Balige where Sebastian’s mother, Mutiara br. Napitupulu lives. She is a woman of tremendous beauty and grace. She received us with shining eyes and Dutch words that she remembered from her past.
I handed over the book in the name of Dirk van Uitert and Sineke de Vries. Sometimes wearing the hat of alderman, Dirk has worked for years on environmental programs and social development. It seemed to me to be a good match, as I know that Sebastian will showcase the book in his studio and exhibition space.
During the course of my travels, I have come to accept, however reluctantly, that the traditional role of indigenous cloth in Batak culture is all but dead and has no future. If there is a future, it is because the designs inspire the artistic creations of current and future Batak artists. With Sebastian Hutabarat, the inheritor of his mother’s textile tradition, the book has found a good home.
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