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‘Metisagges’ Exhibition: Bandung, West Java

Amid the crowded landscape of contemporary art shows in Indonesia in 2007, there have been few textile art exhibitions. Those that were held were run of the mill exhibitions that didn’t break any new technical or aesthetic ground.

Textile art — or what most people perceive as and label as fiber art — has yet to fully develop in Indonesia, despite the presence of many local cultural artifacts, which could be used as the basis for such development.

Up to now, the development of fiber art has been limited to tapestry works that put emphasis on motifs, patterns and ornamentation. The art of tapestry-making has yet to be developed with a more contemporary language of aesthetics.

Tapestries in Indonesia are sadly just treated as mere wall hangings. That is why it is hoped that this stagnancy will end with the arrival of a breathtaking exhibition of new textile art.

Yes, the more than 50 works shown in Metissages: A Crossbreeding of Contemporary Art and Textiles, an exhibition organized by the French Cultural Center (CCF) and held at Selasar Sunaryo Art Space in Bandung from Sept. 21-Oct.21 are both astounding and invigorating, inspiring us to see the possibilities of this art form.

Bandung should be proud to have the honor of hosting this world-touring exhibition curated by Yves Sabourin, which will also be held in Jakarta from Nov. 8-23 at the National Museum. Among the pieces in this exhibition, mostly by French artists, are a number of works by local artists such as Wiyoga Muhardanto and fashion designer Harry Darsono.

CCF has also included the sigale-gale puppet — an ancient Batak artifact on loan from the National Museum — as well as Tana toraja textiles on loan from the Textile Museum, in this display.

A few traditional Sundanese hand puppets from the collection of Asmoro Damais are also on exhibit. One can see that this exhibition has, in its own way, succeeded in weaving the language of contemporary art into the ancient tradition of textile art.

The resulting hybrid also increases the harmony between artists and artisans. We can instantly see how some of the works exhibited show a kind of sensibility toward shape that is clearly well thought out.

The new ideas that these artists have brought forth are fresh, mischievous, and full of surprises. We can see how diligently they have studied and explored the possibilities of their media. Not only are these works of high quality, they can also be perceived as the downfall of the hierarchy of tradition in modern art.

As most people know, textile art is often considered to be a low art due to its industrial and mass-production possibilities. We also realize that most consider techniques like embroidery, weaving, lace-making and crocheting to be uninteresting, doing nothing other than to push textile art into the realm of traditional art. This exhibition strongly opposes that paradigm, in fact proving it entirely wrong.

Aside from the diverse experiments in technique and media, the exhibition also offers works that bring up fascinating social issues.

One example is Mona Hatoum’s Keffieh (1999, 115 x 115cm), in which we see an Arab headdress, similar to the kind that Yasser Arafat used to wear. The headdress was woven by a group of French students from — what we shockingly discover to be — strands of female human hair. Hatoum clearly wants to present an irony here.

“As soon as you realize the Keffieh motif was woven using women’s hair, the object replaces reality and becomes symbolic,” the Palestinian artist explains. The Keffieh is meant to be worn by men.

“Can you imagine a man wearing this, woven with women’s hair, on his head?” Hatoum continues. Hatoum clearly intentionally weaved this piece to reflect a more political message rather than an aesthetic one. On the other hand, she consciously chose to take advantage of the technique of weaving. Here, Hatoum asks us to ponder the possibility that weaving can be perceived as being a new language; a language of silent protest.

Marie Ange Guilleminot is a weaver who diligently explores the possibilities of rough raw silk. Her work titled Le Hamac (1999-2000, 32 x 75cm) is intricately woven. She tries to recreate the shape of spider’s web during the spider’s nesting period. Guilleminot carefully wove many tiny spider webs, so much so that it actually appears as if she used real spider web. Many visitors to the exhibit were fooled, some adamant that she must have used real webbing, while some held firm to what the exhibition catalog states, which is that the material used is raw silk.

Aside from that, Le Hama succeeds in reflecting fragility, strength, ethics, and the soul’s durability as values that we can learn.
Wiyoga Muhardanto’s piece Disposable Gucci (2007, 5 x 17cm) is also notable. This Bandung Institute of Technology fine arts graduate covered three syringes with the logo of the famous fashion house, Gucci. Like the irony in Mona Hatoum’s piece, Wiyoga, known as Yoga, also bluntly criticizes the emptiness of consumerism. The syringes, and their inherent negative connotation, invite another interpretation. We are immediately forced to think about addiction. “People have suddenly found themselves dependent on the prestige that one gets from using a product,” Yoga said.

The works of Bernadette Genee, Claire Rado, Frederic Ollereau and Philippe Favier are way too conceptual for textile art. The military uniform in Genee’s Civiles et militaries (2000, 35 x 55cm), for example, once again serves up irony. The medals are replaced by more feminine symbols like flowers, turning this symbol of machismo into something more feminine and soft. It makes one smile.

The Metissages exhibition is noteworthy as one of the signs of development in the discourse and practice of textile art in Indonesia. Whether we realize it or not, these works have established a communique that will eventually inspire the realm of contemporary art in Indonesia. This is an exhibition that is far too significant to be missed.

Metissages: A crossbreeding of Contemporary Art and Textiles Selasar Sunaryo Art Space Jl. Bukit Pakar Timur No. 100 Bandung, West Java Phone: 62 22 2507939 Fax: 62 22 2516508 Web site: www.selasarsunaryo.com Open daily 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. (Closed Mondays and public holidays)

Aminudin T.H. Siregar