South East Asian Fashion Showcased in “Serpents and Eagles” Exhibition

By Carter Glace

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Via Twitter

Last Sunday in the Barney Building, NYU had the unique pleasure to present the works and lives of several artists specializing in a unique field – the textiles and designs of South East Asia. Organized by the Steinhardt School’s Costumes Studies MA program, the four hours of keynotes, Q&A’s and fashion shows, were an incredible look into efforts to keep the artistry, vision and tradition of an art in danger of disappearing.

After a short introduction, Jeanne Golly began, and her “Textile Tourism in Southeast Asia” was a beautiful look across the several counties she’s touched and worked in over the years. What was most interesting about her work was seeing the many women she has worked with over the years, who she went to great lengths to highlight. The most interesting story of hers was the tale of Nelly, a woman whose works have motived politicians in here home nation to “stop purchasing expensive, high profile important and purchase her homemade works.”

Next up was the keynote speech from Carol Cassidy, whose work in Cambodia was inspiring. A country torn apart during the Vietnam War, the effects are still being felt today. All along the Ho Min Trail, long abandoned land mines are set off, causing horrible damages to unexpecting citizens, but Carol’s have targeted these individuals, creating locations for them to practice the creations of textiles. Stressing the importance of preserving the traditions and methods of the textile creation, she has found ways to modify the tradition machines and tools to accommodate the physical limitations of amputees.

The third speaker was Adrianus Sandy Dharmawan Satrio, who took the opportunity to talk in depth about the process of batik, which uses wax to dictate the pattern. He gave fascinating insight into the history of Javanese textile, namely the notions of it as a political symbol. While those living in the palace were given the privilege to wear these patterns, it was deemed unlawful for those outside.

The final speaker was Carmanita, whose wonderful, brisk presentation covered her over 30 years of work and really dug into the heart of the issue facing everyone on that stage. While detailing her efforts to preserve the traditions and techniques of the past, she lamented the government’s lack of initiative in the conservation efforts. She remarked, “I’ve reached out to every [Indonesian] president… there have been a lot… hopefully they’ll be one who will help.”

This became the running theme of the Q&A, the fear that this very unique art form would be lost unless drastic actions were made to preserve what made home spun Asian textile unique.  Discussing the frustrations of collecting resources, finding markets and finding records of past methods, it became clear the resolve everyone had regarding the art they loved. As Carol discussed, “textile has the root text for a reason, because it is a language among cultures. And it is students like you who will lead the charge when our work is in museums.” And after closing on a fashion show, it is clear why they are so convicted.

The beauty, variety and vibrancy of the works ranging from wedding wear, combat attire, dresses and scarves, these works are a stunning work of art. One that, with the efforts of these artists, will hopefully last into the next generation.

Carter Glace is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com

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