AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 354

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Session 354: Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia

Organizer: Roy W. Hamilton, Independent Scholar, USA

In every museum exhibition of Southeast Asian textiles, label text informs visitors that weaving and batik making are the quintessential work of women. Displayed on museum walls, however, such textiles often hang completely decontextualized, providing no opportunity for visitors to engage with the lives of the women who made them. "Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia," an experimental exhibition opened at the Fowler Museum at UCLA in August 2010, has been designed to redress this situation. The exhibition consists of short videos filmed at eight locations, in which master weavers and batik makers tell their stories directly to the museum (and Internet) audience. Textiles made by the women accompany the videos. Senior Curator Roy Hamilton will provide an overview of the goals and methods of the project. Cherubim Quizon will explore issues of representation and translation faced in the filming and editing of the videos. Jill Forshee will examine themes of memory and loss that appear as important elements in several of the videos, providing an example of how the material can be used comparatively and analytically. Finally, Gina Hall will present the Fowler Museum’s evaluation of the project as a tool for classroom teachers at the secondary level and for public education via the Internet and social media. Each of the panelists will show relevant excerpts from the videos, allowing the weavers and batik makers their own voices in the panel. Audience feedback will be helpful in completing a published version of the project.

Getting the Story: Motivations and Methods in Filming Weavers’ Stories
Roy W. Hamilton, Independent Scholar, USA

The making of textiles has been a primary means of achieving status for woman in Southeast Asia and the most skilled textile artists are renowned throughout their communities. Such master weavers and batik makers have repeatedly impressed foreign textile researchers with their extraordinary character. When cloths enter museums, however, they have almost always been stripped of even the name of the maker due to the manner in which they have been collected. Weavers’ Stories from Island Southeast Asia shifts the focus from the display of “anonymous” works of art to a model which celebrates the skill and creativity of named artists. A common conceit of collectors is that Southeast Asian textile artists no longer make works that match the quality of fine old masterpieces of the past. This view is held without regard to evolving tastes on the part of the artists or to changing social and economic circumstances. In the videos, however, the women talk about the things that motivate them to excel as artists even in the face of rapid change. The stories they have chosen to tell range from a highly conservative evocation of the spiritual power of ancestral cloth to a moving tale of adjustment from longhouse to urban environment. Each artist chose to participate in the project for her own reasons, whether to have her work better known or for perceived values for cultural pride and preservation. On their part, the film makers faced choices regarding the ethics of filming across cultural boundaries.

The Weaver’s House: Situated Listening, Translation and Video in the Highlands of Mindanao
Cherubim A. Quizon, Seton Hall University, USA

This paper will focus on conversations with Lang Dulay, famed T’boli weaver in Lake Sebu, Mindanao in the Southern Philippines in 2009-2010. In asking the artist to speak for herself using video as the medium, what kinds of problems are actually solved? What new issues emerge? If the weaver is the expert and the scholar her interlocutor, does power over the message shift in any significant way? Parts of Dulay’s story included in the video center on the role of dreams in her work, and the impact of a Philippine government award on her life, including the opportunity to participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in the U.S. We also filmed (but did not include in the final edit) scenes that show how Dulay shifts the discourse from t’nalak textiles to the problem of building a better weaver’s house, and how she negotiates her role with the government on one hand, and her T’boli kin, on the other. Issues of multilingual translation and the critical role of young T’boli-speaking intermediaries also presented challenges in creating the final edited video. For comparative purposes, the complexities of filming a polyglot weaver, Dapong anak Sempurai, in the rural and urban landscapes of Borneo will also be discussed. By using actual footage shot in the field and inviting the audience to provide feedback on editorial decisions that transpired in the making of the videos, this paper seeks to analyze modalities of authorship and voice in complex storytelling projects.

On Owning and Losing: Weavers’ Tales from Sumba and East Timor
Jill K Forshee, Columbia College, USA

In Sumba, Indonesia and in East Timor, weavers in the videos tell of losing valued textiles. Through motifs, materials, and techniques of creation, fabrics confirm social ownership and place through time. As belongings preserving memory, crisis follows their loss. Sumba weavers lost control of clan motifs when outsiders appropriated these into facsimiles sold in Bali. In East Timor, revered ancestral cloths were stolen and sold in distant lands—following a rampant trade in the spoils of war. This paper considers weavers’ stories as conveying profound struggles in maintaining one’s “own” through the precariousness of time. Warfare obliterates ownership and often the means to create anew. In recently independent East Timor, generations of heirloom textiles disappeared during years of political violence, yet some weavers retained fabric strips recording family designs. Luisa de Jesus’s poignant story recalls fearful times of murder, theft, and displacement, asserting supernatural retribution enacted by a stolen ancestral cloth. Loss stalks control of textile designs. Outsiders reproducing ancestral fabrics jeopardize the integrity of ownership. Sumba’s weavers conceal their motif production from the sight of others, preserving them in hidden pattern guides. Theft is a social “leveling” device long defying the island’s caste system, as low ranking people steal from nobles. Rambu Pakki’s story reveals the subtle community workings in retrieving a valuable textile pattern stolen by a local man. Rambu Pakki and Luisa continue guardianship through small strips or squares recording ancestral motifs. These archival objects embody vigilance and memory.

Weavers’ Stories: Evaluating the Educational Programs
Gina M. Hall, Independent Scholar, USA

This presentation offers the results of the Fowler Museum’s evaluations of the effectiveness of the project’s educational programming for the public and for secondary school students. Teachers’ lesson plans developed for the project encourage students to explore issues of change and adaptation, women’s studies, artistic expression across cultures, international development and global economics. Excepts of these lesson plans will be shared with the AAS audience, as well as the results of post-project interviews with participating teachers and students. Reflecting the experimental nature of the exhibition itself, we will measure the impact of the project on our public audience not only by using traditional evaluation methods (in-gallery observation and exit interviews) but also by conducting social media and online surveys. We hope to assess in particular whether viewers perceive this exhibition’s strategy as being distinct from more conventional textile exhibitions. Online evaluations will consist of a brief questionnaire for each video. Assuming that our online audience will take more time to watch the videos in their entirety and to reflect on the stories, we will ask more detailed questions about the subject matter and encourage in-depth comments and questions. Capitalizing on the spontaneous and instantaneous nature of social media, we will engage in an active online conversation with our Facebook groups and Twitter followers—responding to questions sparked by viewing the videos with the help of curator Roy Hamilton and the various content experts who participated in the making of the videos.