Sandra Niessen at the opening of Woven Worlds at the Tropenmuseum 17 Feb 2006

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Sandra Niessen - Woven Worlds

Woven Worlds (Wereld van Weefsels) - a 2006 exhibition of Batak textiles in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.

The Tropenmuseum has one of the largest and best collections of Batak textiles in Europe. When I approached the museum with the idea of putting together an exhibition of Batak textiles, the committee was most taken with the possibility of exploring highlights of how the collections had come together. Collection history has become an important exhibition topic in recent years – and the highlights of the Batak collection are certainly illustrious.

Exhibitions are crafted in exemplary fashion at the Tropenmuseum. Right away, the designer, Daan Ament, was involved. When I gave him a short briefing about the textiles, he was inspired by the knowledge that the circular, continuous warp (lengthwise threads) symbolize the passage of time. He designed a circular wall as the dominant component of the exhibition space and used it to represent the chronological development of collection history.  Inside the wall, the visitor became privy to information about Batak culture; all of the textiles were exhibited there. On the outside surface, the visitor gained information about the collectors. The wall itself was the interface of West meeting East.

Photo by Elio Modigliani showing the circular warp hanging in the exhibit, late 19th century, Toba Batak, The Museum of Anthropology, Florence.
see images from the exhibit
Maquette of the Woven Worlds exhibit by designer, Daan Ament, inspired by the circular, continuous warp.
Photo by Elio Modigliani showing the circular warp hanging in the exhibit, late 19th century, Toba Batak, The Museum of Anthropology, Florence.   Maquette of the Woven Worlds exhibit by designer, Daan Ament, inspired by the circular, continuous warp.

At the beginning of the collection history, the wall was high with only a few windows onto Batak life. With the progression of time, the wall became lower and less impenetrable until, in the modern age of boundless communication opportunities, it was reduced to a mere line to indicate the interaction between the two worlds.

The collectors highlighted by the exhibit included:

H.N. van der Tuuk, the talented Dutch linguist sent out by the Dutch Bible Society to translate the bible into Batak. He collected textiles to illustrate his dictionary.

J.E. Jasper, a colonial administrator who collected for the World Fair in Brussels in 1912. Jasper’s career advanced during the Ethical Period in Dutch colonial history during which time he had focused on promoting the indigenous crafts of the Netherlands East Indies as a way of promoting local, independent employment.

Tassilo Adam, a German photographer, who initially went to East Sumatra as a plantation employee. He eventually devoted himself full-time to the collection and documentation of Batak ethnography because he saw that it was just a matter of time before all would disappear.

The modern era was represented by Sandra Niessen’s collection. Few museums have continued to collect into modern times. Niessen’s fieldwork findings made it possible to bring the makers of the textiles into focus. They are anonymous in the early collections.

Since 1979, the former curator of textiles at the museum, Rita Bolland, was one of my most important mentors in the study of textile techniques. The current curator of textiles, Itie van Hout, shared my passion for exploring the dynamic development of the indigenous Indonesian textile arts into the present day. I was honoured to have a place in the long line of collectors, and researchers that have contributed to the illustrious history of the Tropenmuseum. Woven World exhibit at the Tropenmuseum 2006
Batak in the Picture, Tassilo Adams

The Woven Worlds (Wereld van Weefsels) exhibit (17 Feb - 2 Jul 2006), together with a second exhibit of the photos of Tassilo Adam, Batak in the Picture (17 Feb - 14 May 2006), opened on 17 February 2006 as described at the time on the Tropenmuseum website.

see images from the exhibit and its official opening

Legacy in cloth - Woven Worlds - Rita Bolland - Gardener's House - Back to the villagesBergord Publishing - Collection

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