Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From Porsea to Yogya

On Sunday 13 February, I presented my talk about the Back to the Villages project to the Fiber Face 3 audience. Just when I began to describe the presentation of a copy of Legacy in cloth to Ompu Okta, she and her husband walked into the room and I introduced them to the audience. She walked up to the front of the room to join me and we stood there, arm in arm, just as we stood in the first photographs that MJA Nashir took of us back in her village last June. I pointed out that she loved her craft and felt fulfilled and satisfied as a weaver, except for one thing: she had no pupils. This saddened her a great deal because she knew that it meant the end of her tradition and of her own skills.

Last June feels like a light year away. I was new in Indonesia, then, having not been here in such a long time. The state of crisis in the Batak weaving arts was just beginning to seep into my awareness. Since then a vision and a discourse about the perpetuation of this threatened art have begun to take shape.

Fiber Face 3 plays an immense role in that process. It has presented a forum in which to tell the general public about what has been lost and the urgency of the crisis. It has presented a space in which to show beautiful textiles, the likes of which most people here – and specifically the Batak youth – no longer have an opportunity to see (because the heritage has been sold off and exported). Importantly, Ompu Okta is also here demonstrating the complexity of her skill and her extraordinary proficiency as an old-style weaver. (An “old style weaver” to my mind is one who takes so much pride in her work that she also takes the time and uses all of her capacities to make a beautiful product. Most weavers who work for the market receive so little payment for their work that they do not enjoy this luxury.) And finally, Ompu Okta is teaching visitors how to weave. Not only do we have her loom set up but also a second loom with the red warp that Ompu Okta made for the purposes of our film. This opportunity to teach her craft is vastly different from a “normal” situation in the village, but it fits the times and is an attempt to recruit students/apprentices in the wider world.

Ompu Okta has had hundreds of students at Fiber Face 3 in Yogyakarta where
much emphasis has been placed on the continuation of culture.
My very last slide was of the 90 year old weaver in Palipi pointing her finger. I told my audience that she was pointing it at them. You. Us. It is our responsibility, I said. If we do not choose to assume this responsibility, the art will be lost forever. It can’t be learned from a book; it has to be learned through apprenticeship. Culture cannot skip a generation; culture survives through transmission from generation to generation.

At the end of my lecture, a young woman from South Sumatra came up to me and said that she had been moved by my lecture. She is studying the art and science of textiles at a large, accredited institution but until hearing my lecture, had been unsure of the direction she wanted to take. Now she knew that she had a tradition to guard and a foundation on which to build: her own! She is 19, impressionable, full of promise, full of hope. Her words were the greatest expression of appreciation that I could ever receive for delivering a lecture.

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