Arts and Culture
The Simalungun 'bulang' textile is a women's headdress, one of the most complex cloths in the Batak (Sumatra) repertory. It is an object lesson in how a traditional textile design is integrally linked to a specific kind of loom and the way it is customarily deployed. Both the process of weaving and the resultant textile express the Hindu-Buddhist influenced Batak worldview. Using slides, film clips and textiles, this presentation demonstrates how the design and weaving of the bulang can be 'read' and why it is not authentic (i.e. it becomes just a cloth sporting a look-alike design and no longer a culturally meaningful artifact) when made on a (semi-)mechanized loom or printed. The bulang is an expression of a commons, the product of generation upon generation of a community of weavers. The Batak weaving tradition is currently in sharp decline.
This presentation also raises concerns about ostensibly well-meaning attempts to rescue indigenous weaving traditions through fashion and computer designing, by pointing out that these strategies constitute not just the appropriation of design, but also the design process, for commercial ends. Can there be a future for indigenous textile design if weavers do not have the room and scope to continue their community design process?