Archetypes, Aesthetics and Agency: Adat Textiles of Early Indonesian Cultures

Thomas Murray

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

6:00 pm EST/New York

Indonesian textiles are known to convey messages across time and space by means of an archetypal iconography that include human figures, trees, boats, reptiles, birds and geometric patterns. These encoded images follow ancestral traditions and customary laws known as adat; cloth becomes sacred through a combination of fine spinning, dying, and weaving that creates a sense of aesthetic wonder. The famed anthropologist Alfred Gell referred to this magic state of mind as the “Technology of Enchantment,” the better the weaver’s technique, the greater the cloth’s aesthetic beauty, the more “agency” of spiritual power within an indiginous cultural context. And although we cannot hope to be able to decipher those archetypes in terms of the mindset of the weaver’s community, Gell gives voice to and validates our own experience that such cloths convey messages of wonder and enchantment to us when viewed here in the West… powerful, visually compelling and meaningful… just not the same meaning as in the textile’s original context.

This lecture will follow the themes presented in the newly published book, Textiles of Indonesia, and will focus on some of the finest cloths to come out of the archipelago, presenting each object with impeccable photographs. Geographically arranged, this lecture pays particular attention to textiles from the Batak and the Lampung region of Sumatra, the Dayak of Borneo, and the Toraja of Sulawesi, as well as rare textiles from Sumba, Timor and other islands.

Thomas Murray is a California-based independent researcher, collector, lecturer and private dealer of Asian, tribal and textile art with an emphasis on antique Indonesian sculpture and textiles and Indian printed trade cloths from the 13th to 18th centuries, as well as animistic art from other varied cultures. A contributing editor to HALI Magazine for more than thirty years, he serves as its in-house consultant on ethnographic textiles and has more than fifty publications to his name, including numerous articles on tribal art and textiles, as well as eight books and catalogues: Indonesian Tribal Art (2001), Animistic Art of Island Asia (2008), Masks of Fabled Lands (2009), Pairs, Couples and Maternity: The Art of Two (2014), C-14 Dating of Dayak Art (2015), Textiles of Japan (2018), Rarities – From the Himalayas to Hawaii (2019) and Textiles of Indonesia (2021). He is past president of the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association (ATADA) and served a three-year term as a member of US President Barack Obama’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the Department of State in Washington, DC. Thomas Murray serves currently as the president of SF Tribal, an organization of San Francisco Bay Area art dealers.

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