The Splendours of Malay World Textiles Exhibition was launched over the weekend at Menara Ken, TTDI and will showcase 12 different genres that comprise the complete range of heritage textiles from the Malay world. The exhibition will be open till 30 October in a three-month run that will be accompanied by workshops, lectures, and culminate in a catalogue that will be published in 2023.
This unprecedented collection is owned and curated by John Ang, a Chinese American art historian and collector who relocated to Malaysia in 2018 to further study and refine his understanding of the subject matter as well as to potentially add to his collection. He previously spent 28 years as the director of the Samyama gallery in Taiwan where he established himself as an authority on Asian art, publishing a book on Chinese furniture, as well as books on yoga and Asian cuisine.
“I first started collecting Malay textiles in 2014 and was immediately enamoured by their beauty and complexities. It sparked my passion and I became an avid collector, travelling all over Asia to acquire pieces to add to my growing collection,” said John. “I realised at some point that I would need to be closer to my object of interest so I moved to Malaysia in 2018 to further study and build my collection,” he added.
The exhibition will feature the complete set of the 12 major categories of Malay textiles which will be represented through over 700 individual pieces. These include some of the best examples of Songket (brocade), Limar (weft ikat), Telepuk (gold leaf applique), Tekatan (embroidery), Pelangi (tie-dye), Ikat Loseng (warp ikat), Tenunan (plain weave of stripes and checks), Linangkit (tapestry), Cetakan (prints), Batik (wax resist), Renda (lace) and Anyaman (woven unspun plant fibre). Textiles of other countries that relate to these Malay world textiles will also be on display to enable direct comparisons.
The exhibition was launched by Lee Talbot, curator of the Textile Museum Collection of the George Washington University Museum together with Nini Marini Ramlan, president of Citra, an NGO of textile lovers dedicated to preserving and promoting local textiles.
The Textile Museum Collection includes more than 21,000 examples of handmade textile art representing five continents and five millennia. According to Talbot, “Textiles represent some of humankind’s greatest technical and aesthetic achievements, but they are relatively understudied and in today’s world where machines mass produce textiles, most people don’t fully understand their significance in the past. This project marks the beginning of a new era in global understanding and appreciation of textiles of the Malay world.”
Artist and all-round creative Nini Marini, being a strong supporter of local textiles, hopes that more people will visit the exhibition to learn and be proud of our heritage and culture. “I love learning about our Malay history through our textiles because it so close to home. Malay world in this exhibition spans out further than what we know Malaysia to be and you are able to marvel over how large our world used to be and how we have always been global citizens,” said Nini.
This exhibition offers the people of Malaysia and the rest of the world a unique opportunity to see some of the finest examples of Malay textiles. It not only shows the major techniques of Malay textiles but also displays a wide range of variations within each technique. The rare content and high quality of the exhibition are aimed at inspiring and harnessing the awareness and interest of the general public, textile enthusiasts, fashion designers, interior designers, and textile producers.
Close-up of an exquisite Kelingkam Tudong Manto, which is a woman’s head shawl with gold ribbon embroidery, worn by a performer
Photo by Saufi Nadzri
Asmidar Ahmad in a pink and yellow rayon sarung kebaya popular in the 1950-60s
Photo by Saufi Nadzri
John will be conducting workshops, guided tours and dinner showcases during the exhibition’s three-month run and hopes that Malaysians and international visitors will take the opportunity to visit the exhibition to learn and be inspired by the collection. “This collection is my gift to Malaysians, who I have learned to love since I moved here. I hope it brings you joy and empowers you to be confident of your culture, which has a beautifully rich and diverse history, something worth preserving and celebrating,” said John. “Today was a great example of how beautiful Malay clothes and fashion can be with everyone looking resplendent in their respective bajus,” he added.
Guests and media who were at the launch were treated to two performances, which set the stage for some of these exquisite textiles to be featured adorned by models. There was a mock wedding, a silat performance and colourful song and dance sequences. All the models and performers were dressed in pieces from John’s personal collection.
Performer Muslimah Saptuang, in a green and silver kebaya songket from Terengganu
Photo by Saufi Nadzri
Tickets to the exhibition are priced at RM35 and can be purchased from johnang.com.my where you will also be able to book tours.