Sunday, April 11, 2010

Stirring Initiatives

One of the nicest surprises at the Tribal and Textile Arts Fair in San Francisco was an unexpected phonecall from Yoshiko Wada whom I met in 1992 when I attended her spectacular Shibori conference in Nagoya, Japan. She has continued, since then, to invest her efforts in indigenous textile survival.

During my trips to San Francisco and New York in 2010 for the Arts of Pacific Asia and the Tribal and Textile Arts Shows, I have been sending out feelers to test the reception of my planned Back to the Villages project, aimed at giving a boost to weaving in the Batak area. Numerous discussions have arisen about the maintenance and revival of indigenous textile arts and the strategies that various people and institutions have adopted to achieve this goal.

When I asked Yoshiko what she thought would be the future of such initiatives, her answer revealed much thought and insight. ´Indigenous textile traditions cannot survive,” she said, “unless indigenous cultures survive. People need to feel proud of their cultures and desire to perpetuate them. This is the core of the maintenance of indigenous cloth.”

I could not help but be keenly aware of a tragic irony at the Asian and Tribal Fairs: the objects are highly valued while their cultures of origin are threatened. And it is not as though the two matters are unrelated. 

During  my fieldwork, I noticed that weavers in North Sumatra were poorly remunerated for their skills and products, while the sale of their birthright in the form of “antiques” generated more income. What a reality for them to be confronted with! The income from the antiques is short-lived, however, because the supply is finite. The loss of such heritage also threatens the capacity of the weavers to do good work and to build on their weaving tradition. They need templates from which to derive inspiration and design and technical knowledge.

At the New York Arts of Pacific Asia Fair, a blond woman with a kind face and gentle manner approached my stand and introduced herself as Gwendy Feldman of Original Women™. We had a long and inspired discussion about textile revival and my interest was piqued to visit her website to look at the initiatives of her and her partner. We talked about the need to organize a conference to explore the issue. I hope that our paths cross soon again so that we can realize this plan.   

Since my return to The Netherlands, I have been apprised that Asia House in London, England is having a Fair on 23 and 24 April 2010 to promote and sell traditional and contemporary Asian textiles of top quality.I was pleased to see that the work of the Indonesian NGO, Threads of Life, is being represented at this fair by Lesley and Diccon Pullen and that the well-reputed London oriental textile-dealer, Joss Graham, who recognizes the value of top contemporary pieces, will have an active presence (it was super to see all three of them at the Arts of Pacific Asia Fair in New York!).

The emergence of more and stronger markets that celebrate high-quality products will support the makers and help them to perpetuate their traditions. Desirable quality is not limited to ancient pieces. There are skilled artists in every generation in every culture and in every time period. One need only look at what has happened with Navajo rugs and Northwest Coast carvings since they have been deemed “art” vibrant production has soared!

The admirable work of MAIWA Handprints, an initiative of Charllotte Kwon in Vancouver, encourages and supports producers of indigenous textiles in India. In addition, it provides them with a superb on-going market outlet. To Charllotte, this is one key to the maintenance of a tradition: producers need to know that not just next week, but also next year and the year after, their products will still be in demand.