Thursday, August 20, 2009

Barack Obama's Mother and Indonesian Batiks

Compiled from the original source: PBS – Art Beat & Textile Museun - Current Exhibition

For two weeks, textiles from the collection of Ann Dunham, President Obama's mother, are on view at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. This marks the final stop on a national tour of the exhibition A Lady Found a Culture in its Cloth: Barack Obama's Mother and Indonesian Batiks.

Dunham's first extended stay came in the 1960s after marrying President Obama's step-father, Lolo Soetoro, a native Indonesian and fellow student at the University of Hawaii. Though she left Indonesia when her daughter Maya, the president's half-sister, was very young, she would return several times to the region, later as an anthropologist studying blacksmiths in Java, finishing research and field work on the local culture for her 800-page dissertation (earning her Ph.D. several years before her death at age 52 in 1995). During that time, Dunham witnessed the vibrant elements of a traditional craft culture in danger of extinction. She went on to be a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development, helping set up a village microfinance program. She later became a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women's work.

Batik is a traditional Javanese textile craft, where wax is applied to fabric with either a drawing tool or a stamp, and then dyed again and again, leaving a design after the wax is melted away. The more complex and time-consuming work of hand applying the wax by writing on the fabric is almost exclusively done by women, and the less-rigorous work of stamping designs (a more modern innovation) is done by men. Today, and since the 1970s, many batik-like patterns have been created by silkscreen instead of by hand, but the artisanal tradition in Indonesia still continues.

“A Lady Found a Culture: Barack Obama's Mother and Indonesian Batiks” will be on view August 9 through 23, 2009.

[Watch a slideshow of pieces from Ann Dunham's collection and see a batik artist demonstrating the craft]