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The Ten Hoopen Collection of Indonesian Ikat Illuminates Lisbon

by Susi, 30 October 2014

woven languages pua

When Peter ten Hoopen travelled across the Indonesian archipelago in the 1970s, he was taken by the textile arts he saw along the way. Ikat weaving is a common thread that ties together the diversity of this nation’s myriad cultures and traditions, and unites the layers of history it was founded on, from the bronze age to the present day. In almost mystical ways, the processes and visible patterns of ikat weaving transmit mythologies and shared values across space and time.

Ten Hoopen certainly recognized all of this, and he began collecting Indonesian ikat textiles all across the archipelago. His collection is now one of the most important on earth, a testament to the wealth of local wisdom and folklore that make Indonesia such a rich country — rich beyond anything that can be counted in currency or recorded on a balance sheet.

woven languages alor

Last week, the Museum of the Orient in Portugal, where ten Hoopen has lived for many years, opened an exhibition of his ikat textiles, entitled Woven Languages. Its focus is the didactic and semantic aspects of the weavings, and their place in cultural continuity. If you can find any excuse to visit Lisbon between now and the 25th of January, set aside at least a few hours in your agenda for this dazzling exhibition of 175 rare works of textile art — from Balinese geringsing double-ikat, to exceptionally rare weavings of Los Palos (Timor), to magically-charged pua kumbu from the Dayak tribes of Borneo, and more. This is a feast for the eyes, and the soul.

woven languages view

Exhibition visits guided by Peter ten Hoopen himself, are offered on the following dates: 15 November (at 11:00), and 16 January (at 18:30). You won’t want to miss these tours led by Peter. He’s quite a character, who’s lived a remarkable life, full of adventures of all kinds — internal and external, geographical, material, spiritual, and musical. Here’s some background on Peter. And here’s a bibliography of his published works.

The Museum of the Orient – Lisbon, Portugal
Now through 25 January 2015


(Supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia)


      • Roger Ducasse
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      • November 24, 2014

      Thanks Susi for pointing out this fabulous exhibition. I just spent most of the afternoon there. A unique opportunity to see ikat textiles from all across the archipelago. There were several real surprises. While there are some magnificent limar from Sumatra, of extraordinary quality, the real treat for me was the wealth of textiles from the Solor and Alor Archipelago and the Moluccas. You don't see cloths from those areas often. I had for instance never seen any textiles from Babar, nor from Luang, Lakor and Seram. I had seen ikat from Adonara before, but never of a quality similar to what Peter ten Hoopen displays at the Museum of the Orient. We are entering Holmgren Spertus territory here. Of course the elephant patolu is a real stunner. Even though it is on the cover of the catalogue and I now see it on some of the websites that report on the exhibition, I was not aware that I would be treated to such a magnificent, world class textile. Probably one of the most beautiful textiles in the world - of any kind. As I am very interested in everything Borneo, it was also great to see no less than fifteen pua, all of them of very good quality, and several with human figures (imaginary beings, spirits), which always intrigue me. The museum did a very good job on the lighting. Every cloth (except two or three) is lit individually with dimmed halogen light. This gives the whole space a semi-dark appearance, yet you don't miss any detail. Amazingly, only the patola (two) and some five or six other cloths were behind, or rather under glass, the rest was exposed 'open to the touch', which of course you are not supposed to do, but still, you can get really close to the textile, put a magnifier to it and smell it. All in all a great experience. The catalogue, which shows all the cloths in full page colour plates and has a lot of informative text was a steal: 15 euros!

    • I am glad to have made it last week to Peter Ten Hoopen’s ‘Woven Languages’ exhibition – my thanks to Suzi for her compelling blog and sharing this valuable information with the world. Inside the generous wing that the Musee d’Orient had dedicated to this event, one is permitted a truly intimate encounter with a staggering representation and preservation of Indonesia’s rich and diverse ikat/cultural heritage. The arrangement was just superb. Seeing solitary ikats in the field or in museums is one thing, but never before have I seen so many of Indonesia’s ikats been assembled together as a coherent whole. Their combination adds definitive meaning, impact and allows better appreciation– which is central to our learning. The title ‘Woven Languages’ lives up to it’s designation too, and so does Peter’s scholarship and informative text in the catalogue, intended to guide through the pieces and lead the viewer to the coherence of what are complex language systems in cloth. The cloths were distributed over semi-closed rooms, each with its own vernacular, luring you into their private sphere and surprising you at every turn. An additional section showcasing numerous cloths inspired by patola designs added a significant dimension to the understanding of these cloths and came as an all-out benefit to an appreciative and inquiring audience. Sarongs were hung attractively- many horizontally which did them justice – everything flowed. Praise! For me the personal highlights - excellent condition of the ‘elephant patola’ aside - were the Savu group of 3 mini, rare, ceremonial sarongs, the particularly fine example of Tenganan geringsing wayang, and the Moluccas sarong with human figures and animals. I agree with Roger Ducass that the quality was outstanding. I too appreciated the Limar and other silk ikats displayed under glass that provided a contrast to the cotton weavings on vertical wall display. One particular Kain Limar shoulder cloth, with may be a slightly conservative age estimate of 1875-1900, was especially gorgeous because of it’s unusual small size. There is something seductive about entering a museum at dusk, and the ikats made it doubly seductive. I came prepared for the talk at 6.30pm but unfortunately Peter held it in Portuguese, which was fine as I was out-numbered by Portuguese enthusiasts anyway. His guided tour was fully booked out with 30 visitors/disciples trailing him through the rooms. The rooms were active with people before and after the tour and the museum staff reported too that there was a continuous stream of people throughout the event. The exhibition cast a spell on me as I’m sure it has on a large number of visitors. The only regret I have is not returning the next day to see it all again.

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