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Preserving Textiles: Indigenous Knowledge and Methods

SPAFA SESH #8 was a collaboration between SEAMEO SPAFA and UCLA’s Engaged Scholarship in the Asia-Pacific. Moderated by Linh Anh Moreau, SEAMEO SPAFA’s Programme Officer, this lively discussion included the participation of four panelists:

  • Julia M. Brennan (Senior Consulting Conservator, Caring for Textiles),
  • Annissa M. Gultom (Director, National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, UAE),
  • Mohd Syahrul bin Ab Ghani (Curator, Division of Research and Documentation, Department of Museums Malaysia, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia), and
  • Lilian García Alonso-Alba (Conservation Scientist/Professor, Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía, Mexico),

all of whom played a significant role in the research project entitled “Capturing and Sharing Traditional Methods in Textile Preservation in Southeast Asia”, which included 20 local researchers and practitioners documenting indigenous knowledge between 2016 and 2018.

This SPAFA SESH presented the benefits of soapnut, rinsed rice/coconut water, rice stalk/coconut palm front ash, betel leaf, tea, butterfly pea and toddy palm leaf basketry among the 62 plants identified for textile treatment in the research, the results of which will be published in a soon to be launched publication entitled “Our Ancestors Knew Best: Traditional Southeast Asian Textile Treatments and their Place in Modern Conservation”, produced by SEAMEO SPAFA with the support of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT).

In discussing their research methodology, the panelists shared how they reached out to their local family, professional and community networks with whom a pre-established trust has been formed, revealing how a wealth of information can be found at one’s doorstep. Of particular relevance was the success story of Bali’s indigo community, which has, under the leadership of a charismatic community leader, become a sustainable ecosystem of knowledge, heritage and creative economy that has contributed to the landscape’s regeneration. In addition, the scientific testing of these methods has proved that these traditional methods are more effective than museum-grade products.

In discussing conservation in general, it was said that adaptive reuse makes more sense and seems to be more effective in localized contexts, as opposed to Western models of conservation which rely on listings and legislation.

As for education and the application of indigenous methods, the participants all shared their enthusiasm in the younger generation, students, and practitioners who are willing to undergo processes of ‘unlearning’ Western methods and ‘relearning’ sustainable indigenous knowledge as the hopeful future of conservation communities.

While demonstrating the links between people, heritage, knowledge and landscape, the participants also agreed that sharing knowledge and heritage with the wider world is key, as they carry with them important values for the sustainability of the planet and the resilience of its peoples.

If you watched the SPAFA SESH “Preserving Textiles: Indigenous Knowledge and Methods”, please complete the questionnaire (approximately 5 minutes) to help us improve future SPAFA SESHes: https://bit.ly/Evaluation-Form-SPAFA-SESH8-Preserving-Textiles-Indigenous-Knowledge-Methods.

Date: 12 November 2020

Time: 9:00 AM (BKK and Jakarta time) / 10:00 AM (KL time)

Online Platform: Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/seameo.spafa/ and on Zoom (Please register for Zoom link) *Please note you will be taken to the registration form of UCLA – a collaborator in this SESH.*

Southeast Asian traditional textiles are world renowned and valued as expressions of cultural identity, from the weaving and dyeing processes to the symbolism of their aesthetics and uses. However, local knowledge and actual methods to preserve such deterioration-prone organic material is an under-studied field. To identify tropical-climate appropriate, locally sourced, sustainable, and cost-effective methods that can be adopted by local practitioners working in the preservation of traditional textiles, SEAMEO SPAFA collaborated with local researchers on a region-wide project to collect, document, and compile invaluable indigenous knowledge on caring for textiles. Data collected includes plant materials and methods for wet cleaning, dry cleaning, stain removal, insect mitigation, storage, and associated spiritual beliefs. A first study of its kind, it brought together a dynamic group of textile professionals, museum experts, conservators, historians, scientists, and anthropologists, eager to research, chronicle and learn more about their own national and indigenous practices – before the knowledge is lost.

Panelists: Julia M. Brennan (Senior Consulting Conservator, Caring for Textiles); Annissa M. Gultom (Director, National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah, UAE); Lilian García Alonso-Alba (Conservation Scientist/Professor, Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía, Mexico); Mohd Syahrul bin Ab Ghani (Curator, Division of Research and Documentation, Department of Museums Malaysia, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia)

Moderator: Linh Anh Moreau (Programme Officer, SEAMEO SPAFA)

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