Dressing for some is a matter of identity and national pride while for others it`s an art.
But for some Indonesians, dressing is a matter of both national pride and art as evidenced by the exhibition running at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe where ceremonial, wedding and casual attire are on display.
Dominating the exhibition are items made from the Songket -- a hand-woven silk or cotton fabric that is intricately patterned with gold or silver threads.
Songket weaving is historically associated with areas of Malay settlement and it is thought Arab and Indian merchants could have introduced the production techniques.
Historically, production was located in politically significant kingdoms because of the high cost of materials, the gold thread used was originally made of real gold.
The metallic threads stand out on the background cloth to create a shimmering effect.
In the weaving process the metallic threads are inserted in between the silk or cotton weft threads of the main background cloth.
The Songket that belongs to the brocade family of textiles comes from the Malay word "menyongket", which means "to embroider with gold or silver threads".
In Malaysia the fabric, a proud legacy of the Kelantan and Pattani courts, is known as the "cloth of gold".
It`s produced in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Bali, Sulawesi, Lombok and Sumbawa.
Outside of Indonesia production areas include the East Coast of the Malay Peninsula and Brunei.
This is the material used in making beautiful shoulder drops, ladies` scarves and wrap around for both men and women.
Batik is another prominent fabric used on a number of garments on display. The word batik is thought to have been derived from the word "ambatik", which translated means "a cloth with little dots".
The suffix "tik" means little dot, drop, point or to make dots. Batik may also originate from the Javanese word "tritik" which describes a resist process for dyeing where the patterns are reserved on the textiles by tying and sewing areas prior to dyeing, similar to tie and dye techniques.
Another Javanese phase for the mystical experience of making batik is "mbatik manah" which means "drawing a batik design on the heart".
Although experts disagree as to the precise origins of batik, samples of dye resistance patterns on cloth can be traced back 1500 years ago to Egypt and the Middle East. Samples have also been found in Turkey, India, China, Japan and West Africa from past centuries.
While in these countries people were using the technique of dye resisting decoration, within the textile realm, none have developed batik to its present day art form as the highly developed intricate batik found on the island of Java in Indonesia.
Some experts feel that batik was originally reserved as an art form for Javanese royalty. Its royal nature was clear as certain patterns were reserved to be worn only by royalty from the Sultan`s palace.
Princesses and noble women may have provided the inspiration for the highly refined design sense evident in traditional patterns. It is highly unlikely though that they would be involved in any more than the first wax application.
Most likely, the messy work of dyeing and subsequent waxings was left to court artisans who worked under their supervision.
Traditional colours for Central Javanese batik were made from natural ingredients and consisted primarily of beige, blue, brown and black.
The oldest colour used in traditional batik making was blue. The colour was made from the leaves of the Indigo plant.
The leaves were mixed with molasses, sugar and lime and left to stand overnight. Sometimes sap from the Tinggi tree was added to act as a fixing agent. Lighter blue was achieved by leaving the cloth in the dye bath for short periods of time. For darker colours, the cloth would be left in the dye bath for days and may have been submerged up to eight to 10 times a day.
In traditional batik, the second colour applied was a brown colour called soga. The colour could range from light yellow to a dark brown. The dye came from the bark of the Soga tree. Another colour that was traditionally used was a dark red colour called mengkuda. This dye was created from the leaves of the Morinda citrifolia.
The final hue depended on how long the cloth was soaked in the dye bath and how often it was dipped. Skilled artisans can create many variations of these traditional colours. Aside from blue, green would be achieved by mixing blue with yellow; purple was obtained by mixing blue and red. The soga brown colour mixed with indigo would produce a dark blue-black colour.
On display at the gallery are lovely garments in brown and gold made from modern batik and classic. These are used in making wedding attire for both the bride and the groom. The same material has also been used in making wrap around for both men and women.
Ikat is another fabric used in making wedding gowns, ceremonial attire and men`s wrap around. The fabric is produced in India and South East Asia from the Patola cloth -- a double ikat from Gujarat, western India -- and was exported to Indonesia for the use of the royal families.
The patterns in the Patola Ikats are strikingly similar to the double ikats produced in Bali, Indonesia. Ancient trading routes linked India and South East Asia and also linked Central Asia with India.
Because woven fabric rarely survives for more than a few centuries it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to determine where the technique of Ikat originated. It probably developed in several different locations independently with Ikat known to have been produced in several pre-Columbian Central and South American cultures.
Source: www.alafrica.com (16 Juli 2007)