Batak textiles were at the top of the list of exhibitions at the annual TAB (Textile Art Berlin) event in Carl Ossietzky School in Berlin this past weekend (9 and 10 June). It was a superb opportunity to show our work on Batak textiles to a textile-loving public in Germany. People came from far and wide to attend the event. Twice we were able to show our film, Rangsa ni Tonun, to an appreciative audience.
|A group of Danish textile experts and textile enthusiasts
came to Berlin to visit TAB. Because of their request, we
could show our film a second time. (Photograph by MJA Nashir)
The visitors were truly enthusiastic. Especially the weavers among them could appreciate the finely woven textiles. There were those to whom I had to explain certain basics like the ikat technique (the dyeing of patterns in the yarns before they are woven), but it was clear that the textiles created their own mood and atmosphere and that this required no explanation. People were awed by their simple, elegant, undemanding grace. Sometimes I was quite moved by people's reactions and I knew that they had seen and felt the origin of my own love for this woven tradition. The textiles have an integrity not found in industrially made products. The old ones have a deeply spiritual quality. They speak of the human spirit and reveal skills so highly honed that they can elicit gasps and incredulousness. One woman visited our booth again and again. The textiles filled her with an undefinable longing and she wanted to be in their presence. She felt that she was missing their influence in her life. She sensed the world of which the cloths were a part.
Our booth had many visitors, but I tore myself away on the last day to visit other booths and exhibitions. I was fascinated by the TAB event. It called to mind an art tapestry that I had once seen of warheads entitled Blanket of Peace. The contrast between the woven medium and the depicted image was unforgettable. Just putting women and cloth together seems to yield a particular ambience. Words like peace, calm, kindness, gentleness and attentiveness spring to mind. I was delighted to be a part of it: colour, creativity, inspiration.
I was also delighted to bring Batak weavers of the past, albeit represented only by their work, into the fold. I remembered Ompu Okta's (the leading weaver in the Rangsa ni Tonun film) excitement when she participated in Fiber Face 3, the International Textile Art Exhibition,, in Yogyakarta. The vision of Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam to bring together modern, trained fiber artists with indigenous textile makers is strong and apt. The inspiration that this combination generates is mutual.
Apparently this annual event has been going on for years. It runs primarily on the energy of people who do it for love because makers rarely earn enough for their handmade textiles. But their work IS rational! That it does not pay -- while warheads are hugely subsidized by taxpayer money -- is what is irrational! This is women's work, women's art: underpaid, undervalued. It fosters community and peace. It contributes beauty and a sense of accomplishment and pride. May TAB in Berlin go on forever! And Batak textiles, too.