Saturday, December 03, 2011

Setting up Sopo Sorha

The decline of Batak culture is not sitting well with me. Not at all. I see it most clearly from the vantage point of the weaving arts. Yes, there are still weavers. People can point to them and say, “See, the weaving craft in the batak area is still alive.” But I see something different: the most skilled and advanced manipulations of the loom have been forgotten; the social rules enforcing quality have been forgotten; most of the motifs have been forgotten; weavers have been forced by the market to adopt a division of labour and their weaverly knowlddge has narrowed. When the oldest generation passes away, the sophisticated knowledge of one of the richest and most beautiful weaving traditions in the archipelago will have disappeared, even though there may still be a few weavers left, toiling over their South Sumatran look-alike textiles that are the only ones truly viable on the market.

Restuala Namora Pakpahan’s Sopo Sorha Harungguan in the bay of Muara, where the weavers are trying to revive the weaving arts, is a precious oasis of cultural truth in the cultural sahel. The weavers there are keen to weave the cloths that they admire and that their ancestors wove. They are being aided by staff from YPBB, who are helping them recover their natural dye recipes. Before I left Indonesia, Restuala presented me with a textile, just freshly cut out of the loom, completely dyed with Morinda citrifolia, the indigenous Batak red colour. I was overwhelmed by this expression of hope.

I agree with Restuala’s initiative and goals. He has asked me to be the Foreign Ambassador of Sopo Sorha Harungguan and I have agreed to accept this posting and all of the responsibilities that it entails. I have been "in-vested" and his red natural-dyed textile is my cloak of ermine.

My horses are galloping away in front of me. I envision the following:

• the construction of a sustainable weaving centre that will provide an example of future architecture with a minimal ecological footprint

• purchase and storage of excellent collections of textiles to use as templates for the weavers

• conservation training programs for young people so that they can look after their collections

• curatorial training for young people so that they can learn how to develop high quality exhibitions

• record and revive techniques on the brink of extinction by organizing workshops with the last remaining practitioners of the techniques

• facilties for people who want to come (from afar) to learn weaving

• write children’s books about weaving

• facilities to organize and participate in a wider textile community: nationwide, ASEAN, or Worldwide (Indigenous Weavers Unite!); they can learn from each other and stimulate each other

• develop natural dyes

• develop marketing programs

• develop language training programs

• translate Legacy in cloth into Indonesian and/or Batak

• development of an annual prize to highlight the extraordinary accomplishment of a Batak weaver or weaver-champion.

I am looking for sponsors: local corporations that are active in the Batak area and want to “give something back”, individuals who want “to make a difference in the world”, granting programs, existing organizations that would like to support these initiatives. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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