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The E. M. Bakwin Collection of Indonesian Textiles

December 1, 2007–March 2, 2008
Galleries 108–109

Featuring nearly 50 works—including exquisite examples of the batik and ikat techniques—this exhibition explores a magnificent collection that entered the Art Institute in late 2002, introducing viewers to the rich variety of Indonesian textile traditions and investigating the sources, motifs, and uses of one of Asia’s most spectacular art forms.n the Indonesian Archipelago, with its more than 17,000 islands, weavers have long used many of the world’s known techniques of textile production, and almost every ethnic group has a legend that tells how the art of weaving was brought by a celestial being. Traditionally, village women were in charge of all the stages of the process: collecting plant fibers and forming them into threads, dyeing with natural substances, installing the loom, and patterning through weaving, resist-dyeing techniques, and other means of decoration.

A textile’s major purpose might be to illustrate ethnic identity or descent, to offer spiritual protection, to act as a link to the gods, to announce the wearer’s status, or to strengthen social alliances. Each piece in the E. M. Bakwin Collection can be read as an image of the local culture that produced it and is full of information about political alliances, cosmic beliefs, venerated customs, technical know-how, social structures, trade links, and sometimes even historical events. The objects in this exhibition represent the finest examples of Indonesia’s textile traditions and evoke the great cultural complexity of this crossroads region, which was shaped by influences from China, India, Europe, and the Middle East.The E. M. Bakwin Collection is particularly rich in spectacular works from western Indonesia, including the islands of Bali, Java, and Sumatra. Also included are textiles from Borneo, Flores, Sulawesi, Sumba, and Timor as well as examples from Babar, Lembata, and Savu.

The exhibition is accompanied by a special, lavishly illustrated issue of the Art Institute’s journal, Museum Studies.


Exhibition catalogue: The Art of Indonesian Textiles: The E. M. Bakwin Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago


This exhibition is made possible by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

Ceremonial Scarf (Seledang) (detail), n. d. Indonesia, South Sumatra, possibly Komering. Gift of E. M. Bakwin Indonesian Textile Collection.