Monday, January 07, 2019

Endangered Textile Design: Will we make room for it to survive?

The more I learn about the position of weavers in Indonesia, the more I feel concern that they are no longer in a position to continue to grow their design traditions. I especially see the drastic effects of poverty. How can a weaver allow her imagination to take flight when she is worried about where school fees will come from, how she can pay for medicine for her sick husband and whether the weather will allow her to reap a sufficient harvest? Moreover, when she weaves, she cannot hope to earn nearly what she deserves for her time and effort. These days she must compete with mechanical looms that appropriate her heritage designs. To corner an external market, she is encouraged to work within an aesthetic genre that is not hers; her own cultural market is too poor to pay for her best work. When the fashion world appropriates her designs, she is often demoted to the role of underpaid labourer if she is involved in the process at all. She is definitely between several rocks and a hard place. This is especially painful when compounded with the awareness that these exquisite, rich Indonesian woven traditions are the result of the skill and creativity of generations upon generations of village weavers. Does this mean that these traditions are doomed to come to a halt forever? Surely computer generated 'indigenous' designs are not the answer! What about creating room for the weaver through respect, a living wage, market improvement, appropriate policy that protects her role as creator of her own heritage!

Dr. Geneviève Duggan (field area: Savu) and I decided that we wanted to call badly needed attention to these issues. Luckily we are able to do that within the context of ICAS, the International Convention of Asian Studies at Leiden in July 2019. We will be chairing a Roundtable devoted to the topic. This is the introduction that we wrote for our event.

How indigenous weavers create design in their communities has not been sufficiently studied. 
The topic has become urgent because indigenous weaving traditions are in sharp decline.  

The goal of the Roundtable on Endangered Textile Design is to explore the cultural nature of indigenous textile design creation. The topic has been selected on the understanding that the loss of indigenous design is not inevitable, but the result of identifiable social forces, hence the possibility of remedial strategies.

The Roundtable will also examine exogenous forces that have an impact on indigenous design production. Indigenous weavers currently suffer from a loss of social and economic room to continue to grow their design traditions. Enclosures, appropriations, and 'design assistance' from exogenous worlds need to be evaluated for their effect on weaver latitude. 

The Roundtable is set up to encourage discussion, generate feedback and elicit additional information. Will a consensus of concern emerge? Can a basis for policy recommendations be established?

1 comment:

  1. Sandra, Good to see this. You could easily insert the name of many countries in the line that says Indonesia and the story would be the same. It certainly is in Guatemala. Good luck with the Roundtable, and may it lead to some constructive actions. Not easy, this one.