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The Fabric of Life: Ikat Textiles of Indonesia

Exhibition dates: February 28 – September 24, 2006
Exhibition location: The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing

The first exhibition to examine ikat textile traditions across the breadth of Indonesia will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 28, 2006. Featuring more than 25 outstanding ikat textiles, most never before exhibited, The Fabric of Life: Ikat Textiles of Indonesia explores the imagery, forms, and roles of what is perhaps the single most important, widespread, and technically sophisticated of all Indonesian textile traditions. They are drawn primarily from the Metropolitan's extensive collection of Indonesian textiles.

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of the Friends of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Stretching eastward in a vast arc off the coast of Southeast Asia, the islands of Indonesia have long been renowned for the richness and variety of their textiles. Created by women and used by both sexes, textiles are produced by virtually all the diverse ethnic groups who inhabit the Indonesian archipelago from Sumatra and Bali in the west, across the vast islands of Borneo and Sulawesi, to the spice-rich islands of the east. From earliest infancy to the wrapping of the funerary shroud, life in many Indonesian societies is both literally and figuratively interwoven with textiles.

The term ikat is derived from the Malay word mengikat, meaning "to tie" – a reference to the distinctive technique used to create them, a complex process that involves tying strips of fiber around the unwoven threads of a textile before dyeing them so as to create rich and intricate patterns in the resulting fabric. Although united by a common technique, ikat textiles are astonishingly diverse in their imagery, which ranges from bold geometric compositions to figural patterns of striking visual and technical virtuosity. The sources of artistic inspiration are equally varied. Some reflect artistic influences from India, the Southeast Asian mainland, or the Islamic world. Others draw on purely indigenous aesthetics. Ikat textiles appear in diverse forms, from lavishly adorned garments, such as skirts or shoulder cloths, to monumental ceremonial textiles used to mark sacred spaces, enshroud the dead, or serve as potent symbols of their owners' wealth and power.

The exhibition will feature works from across the Indonesian archipelago, including the subtly patterned fabrics of the Aceh region of Sumatra, recently devastated by the Southeast Asian tsunami, and the vibrant designs of the Iban women of Borneo, whose achievements at the loom were seen as equivalent to men's exploits in battle. It will include works ranging from items of personal apparel, such as a group of luxuriously adorned tapis (women's skirts) from the Lampung area of Sumatra, to an imposing ceremonial hanging from the Toraja people of Sulawesi, over 16 feet in length and adorned with images of crocodiles and deer.

The Fabric of Life is organized by Eric Kjellgren, the Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. Friede Associate Curator for Oceanic Art, in collaboration with Christine Giuntini, Conservator, both in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum.

A variety of educational programs will be offered, including family programs in English and Spanish, and a Sunday at the Met afternoon on March 26, 2006. The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website (www.metmuseum.org).

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January 30, 2006

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