Exhibition Abstract

 “Transnational Ikat: An Asian Textile on the Move”
Iris and B. Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, 1/24/13 to 3/1/13
Curator, Professor Susan Rodgers, Sociology and Anthropology, Holy Cross
Student Docents: Hana Carey, ’13; Tricia Giglio, ’14; Martha Walters, ‘14

A warp ikat cotton sarong, West Timor or Timor Leste
A warp ikat cotton sarong, West Timor or Timor Leste


Ikat is often considered the prototypical village Southeast Asian cloth, hand-woven of handspun cotton and indelibly linked to “tradition” and myth.  Often woven on back-strap looms, ikat entails the intricate dyeing of one or (more rarely) both sets of yarns into patterns before the loom is strung for the final weaving of the textile.  Small ties or ikats are used to bind the threads, forming a resist during dyework.  The Indonesian and Malay verb mengikat means “to tie off.”

In much of village Southeast Asia, ikat dyeing and weaving is associated with women, the supernatural, and ceremonial exchange at marriage.  Weaving an ikat on the loom is sometimes likened to the “weaving” of a fetus in the womb, and soaking the threads in deep natural dyes from tree barks and special leaves evokes the powers of female fertility and family fortune.  Village ikat technologies also reference the supernatural realm of ancestors and spirits. Yet, this vision of Southeast Asian ikat as an overwhelmingly traditional cloth type misses much of this textile’s full creativity, both historically and in contemporary times.  Ikat has long crossed borders as a cloth of commercial marketplaces, fashion worlds, and international art collecting.  Ikat is thus a vibrantly transnational textile of insular Southeast Asia and beyond. This full range of ikat’s aesthetic power is the focus of the 2013 exhibition at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Ikats displayed in the exhibition come from Sumba, Flores, and other parts of eastern Indonesia; from Bali, Sumatra, and Sulawesi; and from Iban societies in Malaysia’s Sarawak state. The ikats come from both handlooms and factory floors. The exhibition draws on 2012 fieldwork by Professor Susan Rodgers (anthropology, Holy Cross) and Holy Cross student docents Hana Carey, Tricia Giglio, and Martha Walters.  Fieldwork included study of two non-governmental organizations or NGOs: Threads of Life in Ubud, Bali, and the Tun Jugah Foundation in Kuching, Malaysia. The four researchers have jointly written this website to the exhibition. ikat backpack, Bali, 2012Example of commercialized, touristic ikat today, ikat backpack, Bali, 2012