At the Amsterdam launch Sandra presented a first copy of 'Legacy in cloth' to Threads of Life which was received on their behalf by Lesley Pullen, their representative in London with Pamela Cross standing to her right facing the camera

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Sandra Niessen - news

From Asian Textiles, the magazine of the Oxford Asian Textiles Group, Number 43, June 2009:

Dutch launch for Batak textile book

Pamela Cross writes: "Based on 30 years of research by Sandra Niessen into the Batak and their textiles with over two decades of fieldwork and consultation of all major European collections of Batak textiles and private collections in Indonesia.  The book is a study of the woven heritage of the Toba, Simalungun, and Karo Batak. It provides a record of more than 100 different design types, including archival and contemporary photographs showing how the textiles are woven and how they are used in Batak culture. 

The most complete analysis of Batak textiles ever published, with book design by prize-winning art book designer, Marie-Cécile Noordzij-Pulles, it is a tour de force.  This note is not a review of the book.  During the last three years I have become too closely involved with it and its author to feel able to do that objectively and, although I have read sections of it in production and have been constantly dipping into it since receiving my published copy, at 568 pages it deserves a serious chunk of time to read it cover to cover which I have not yet been able to devote to it. 

I collected my first Batak textile in 1996, visited Lake Toba and the Toba and Batak areas in 1997 collecting current and some older pieces and added one or two special pieces in the period to early 2006 when I was ‘virtually’ introduced to a Toba Batak family wishing to sell a family collection of ulos.  It was whilst researching these textiles, now in my collection, and their associated family history that I was introduced to Sandra Niessen and visited the ‘Woven Worlds’ exhibit of Batak textiles which she curated at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam in the spring of 2006.  Since then Sandra has been incredibly supportive and generous in sharing her vast knowledge of Batak textiles and customs with me and we have become very regular email correspondents and close friends.  I have been awaiting Legacy in cloth with eager anticipation.  It satisfies so much of what I, as a collector, want to know: to identify my cloths; to understand their role in the culture and history of the Batak; to understand the technique of their construction in words, diagrams and photos; to see them being worn in archive photos; ... to name but a few key desires!  I was honoured when Sandra asked me to speak – which turned into a presentation - at the book launch for Legacy in cloth held in Amsterdam on 15 May in the private Soeterijn theatre within the Tropenmuseum. (See photos of the launch.)

Our joint hosts, Lejo Schenk, Director of the Tropenmuseum and Dr Harry Poeze, Head of KITLV Press, Sandra and myself were all drawn onto the stage by a group of Batak dancers and each ceremonially draped in an ulos and thereby blessed by the act.  Sandra selected a beautiful Silindung valley ragidup from her collection for Harry, usually only worn by a grandparent, as he had recently become a grandfather for the first time.  Appreciating its significance he had a lovely proud grin on his face for the duration and Sandra later made him a gift of the cloth.  I chose a very fine 100-year old na marpisoran from my collection woven by Ernestina boru Hutagalung in the village of Huta Harean (Silindung valley) during the first decade of the 20th century.  By a fortunate serendipity this turned out to be the same village from which the lead dancer, Paul Hutagalung, originated! 

I had the privilege of watching Leo Schenk’s awed face as he leafed through the book before the ceremonies began.  In his welcoming speech he paid tribute to the book as "a bible that everybody who does Indonesian textile studies in the future will have to refer to."  It was Leo’s belief in the book that made it possible to launch it in the Tropenmuseum

As well as giving first copies of the book in thanks to her key supporters Sandra gave one to Threads of Life (www.threadsoflife.com) in appreciation of their support work for Indonesian weavers (6 November 2008 talk to OATG by William Ingram).  This was received on their behalf by OATG member, Lesley Pullen.  Following the ceremonies there was a very enjoyable reception in the Soeterijn Café next door to the theatre and all the books brought to the launch were sold. (Photo of Sandra Niessen, Harry Poeze, Mr F X Widiyarso from the Indonesian Embassy in the Hague, Lesley Pullen and Pamela Cross.)

Next Sandra wants to raise the funding to have the book translated into Bahasa Indonesia and to take it ‘back to the villages’.  “When I return to the Batak villages in 2010, I want to be bearing armloads of this book. I want to present one to each weaver who helped me with my research. I want to show the weavers where they are depicted in the book and watch their faces light up. I want to thank them and honour them.... No doubt the book will stimulate more recognition from the village leaders and from their neighbours and families. Years later, I will want to see whether the book has inspired new textile designs, or the re-making of old ones.”  We hope Sandra will come to the UK in November to tell us about her ‘back to the villages’ dream." (See Sandra's Nov 2009 schedule).

Legacy in cloth: Batak textiles of Indonesia by Sandra Niessen, published by KITLV Press, Leiden, May 2009 – Netherlands launch, 15 May 2009.

See photos of the launch.

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