Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Who is Ibu Stephanie?

Stephanie Belfrage, the Australian woman who gave her beautiful batik textiles back to Indonesia, is "one of the warmest and most generous spirits you could wish to meet" according to a friend of hers. This warmth has shone through all of the correspondence that I have had with her.
Stephanie Belfrage with her husband and one of her hand-made quilts.

In addition to this, I know her through a short blurb that she wrote  for the big repatriation event in Pekalongan. Here it is:

In 1971, I left Australia, newly married, for Paris.  Seven years later, we packed up our young family and set out for Jakarta.  There was a marked contrast in lifestyle but the whole family fell in love with the people, the landscape and the vibrant Indonesian culture, and embraced it all with open arms. 
We wasted no time in learning Bahasa Indonesia, and quickly made friends among both Indonesian colleagues and fellow expats.  I became involved in a number of projects, all related in some way to textiles.  I joined a quilting group and through it learned about the different batik textiles.  I was on a committee that set up a shop, ‘The Red Feather’, to provide skills and income for the paraplegic residents of the Wisma Cheshire Home in Cilandak, Jakarta.  We taught the residents basic English and Accounting.  The girls learned to cut and sew patchwork items.  The boys made superb dolls’ houses.  The shop was very successful and enabled the residents to achieve a degree of independence, which would not otherwise have been possible for them.  (I am not sure whether or not the shop is still functioning). 
Batak textiles from North Sumatra were first introduced to me through the  Ganesha Society (now called the Heritage Society??) where I also met Batak people living in Jakarta.  I then began to collect their textiles,  learning about the significance of  ulos within Batak culture.  This study became part of a lecture programme of  the Ganesha Society
Double ikat weaving, unique to the village of Tenganan, was introduced to me in regular sojourns at Ibu Oka’s Ashram in Candi Dasa, East Bali. A visit to the Batak homeland of Samosir in North Sumatra expanded my knowledge of their textiles (ulos). Attendance at a traditional funeral ceremony in Sulawesi resulted in the acquisition of one of the most valued textiles in my collection, which has recently been most welcomed by the Jakarta Textile Museum and is now, as I understand it,  part of the current exhibition of Torajan textiles.  Travel to Cirebon and Linggar Jati in 1985 to visit the home of the beautiful Pekalongan batiks and to watch them being created in the traditional workshops, led to my exposure to yet another variety of Indonesian textile.
Everywhere we went, we collected textiles.  The everyday ones, were cut and used in patchwork quilts as shown in the photo attached.  When we left Indonesia in 1986, the textiles and patchwork quilts came with us.  They have been much admired and much loved since then.
However, life goes on.  This year we have moved to a smaller space and foremost on my mind was what to do with the textiles.  Of the options available, returning them to their original home seemed by far the most satisfying.  Indonesia had been so welcoming to us, introducing us to wider cultural  perspectives, which in turn invited us to reflect on our own. Thanks to modern technology, I ‘met’ Dr. Sandra Niessin, who told me about her Pulang Kampung project, which I immediately identified with.  With Sandra’s guidance and the help of Mrs. Mara Soekarno, Dr. Anne Conduit, Mr. Greg Roberts and Mr. Ian Reed, all the textiles are now returning home.

Stephanie's photograph was projected on the wall behind us  as I 
spoke about the spirit of repatriation in Pekalongan's 
Batik Museum