Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Malaysian Weaves

During my recent trip to Singapore, I visited the Asian civilisations museum, which hosted a whole spectrum of incredible South Asian textiles. Some were ancient yet still in prestine condition whilst others were modern day creations. I was struck by their intricacy and beauty. Not only were the textiles a demonstration of incredible craftsmanship but they also bore contemporary relevance to the lives of the communities and cultures in which they were created. This meaning, deeply embedded into each woven strand of the cloth highlights the importance of textiles and that cloth with a functional purpose can also be artefacts of beauty.

After this enlightening experience I was surprised to return to my drawing school and find an exhibition of Royal Malaysian weaves. Within Malaysia, traditional arts are more than simply specimens on display in a museum. Their role means that they play an important part in a living tradition, which must be nurtured and continually renewed by every generation in order for their purpose to be recognized in contemporary life.

Throughout the exhibition, the importance of tradition becomes apparent. Despite the word yielding many negative connotations in modern society, the exhibition really demonstrates how tradition it is something, which can never be outdated. The principles of tradition are both timely and timeless and transcend the fleeting trends of fashion and style. Equally, traditions are universal in promoting a meaningful foundation for the art of today. Crafts are integral to Malaysian life, from birth through to death. During this year, traditional crafts have certainly played an important part in informing the development of my work. Skills in crafts such as hand knitting, macramé, hand knitting, smocking and pom-pom making can be adapted and approached with a contemporary, unconventional eye to create something very unusual. This importance is probably one of the most advantageous things I have learnt this year.

Back to the exhibition and another point of interest is the importance of cultural exchange. One can consider this to be vital in helping to spread understanding of how universal principles can be applied on a local level. In addition it affirms cultural identity and uniqueness. This theory also applied to my essay study in which I investigated traditional Chinese dress and its cultural significance. I believe that the exchange of textile goods enable us to cross boundaries that separate cultures in order to discover the unity and universality of creation.

The imagery of Malaysia dotted around the exhibition help one understand the source of inspiration for such exquisite textile pieces. The natural world for example the wealth of tropical flora along with the striking Malay architecture, for example in Kuala Kangsar, the royal town of Perak strongly influence symbols, design and colour. On display are fine examples of Songket (gold thread weaving) and Tekat (gold thread embroidery). The colour gold bears considerable meaning for the Malay people for it is symbolic of the sun and spirit.

Malaysian textiles themselves can also be considered extraordinarily meaningful to Malay culture and have inspired other area of the arts such as poetry. Equally, they play an essential role in ceremonial rituals and daily life. Whereas Chinese historical garments have been banished to having a novel, purely decorative or touristic role, it is heartwarming to realize that this is not the case for all Asian cultures.

The role of the textiles within this exhibition can be categorized into possessing one of two roles-
1. Those intended for clothing and decorative purpose.
2. Those, which transcend utilitarian function to become indicators of cultural identity and prestige.

Historically, textiles were considered a prime commodity and a vital means of exchange and dignitaries were honoured with gifts in the form of textiles and clothing. In Malaysia the gift of textiles was considered one of the highest honours to be bestowed at Malay courts. Today, we can pick up a T-shirt on the high street for £2.

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