I recall inviting Mrs Inez Casimiro, a senior member of Darwin's Timor-Leste community, into the Southeast Asian storeroom at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory after she had agreed to 'co-curate' a display of Timorese objects. Viewing the collection, she was drawn to earrings, hairpins and bracelets similar to those which she'd worn as a young woman in her homeland, before fleeing to Australia as a refugee in 1975.
A woven fibre food cover - lo'u metin - immediately caught Mrs Casimiro's eye. She explained that as a girl she had watched her aunt make similar food covers in her home village of Same. She had never expected to see one again - especially not in Darwin, Australia!
This anecdote illustrates the good fortune of Australian cultural institutions that have developed Indonesian and Timor-Leste collections and the obligations of custodianship resulting from this boon. These collections have important roles to play in fostering bi-lateral research, training and exhibitions. They are also resources for the revitalisation of cultural practices, heritage preservation and the documentation of intangible heritage in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
Because it is they who physically care and treat the items, it is conservators who often develop the most intimate relationship with collection objects. First in this issue of TAASA Review, the observations of international exchange training programs in museology practice by Sandra Yee and Kristin Phillips remind us that neighbouring nations such as Timor- Leste and Indonesia often enjoy only limited access to collection care resources enjoyed by Australian institutions. Valuable collections remain vulnerable to natural disasters, civil unrest and economic pressures. The exchange of skills and techniques between Australian museum conservators and Timorese and Indonesian counterparts have supported improved care for Southeast Asia collections.
Siobhan Campbell writes about her investigations in Kamasan village, Bali, into the significance of the Australian Museum's collection of Balinese paintings compiled by renowned Australian anthropologist Dr Anthony Forge in the 1970s. Through the impressions of villagers, a body of information is being amassed which narrates the dynamics of exchange and encounter between Kamasan artists and Forge: timely research, as Forge's incursions remain in living memory. In Negara, Bali, another timely intervention is under way; here the embroidering of story cloths is experiencing a gradual revival. I Made Rai Artha records the process of re-engaging textiles artisans with sulaman Negara, hand embroidered textiles such as the one on the cover of this issue, which until recently have teetered on the edge of disappearance.
Revival and reconstruction are themes implicit in Eugénio Sarmento's exploration of the significance of ceremonial houses in Timor- Leste. Sarmento reminds us that material architectural forms are embodiments of intangible cultural values as he convincingly illustrates how Timorese cultural identity is inherent within the traditional ume lulik architecture of Soibada. Alternatively, Jill Jolliffe considers the changing city of Dili and reflects on whether, as development and construction proliferate, Dili's culturally varied architectural heritage has a place in this city's future.
Issues of Indonesian art and Islamic cultural heritage are examined by James Bennett, who considers the role of Islam as a source of artistic inspiration in Javanese art during the early modern era. He argues, using the example of a stunning pair of 18th century loro blonyo sculptures, that the widely propagated notion of a syncretic layering of indigenous, Buddhist-Hindu and Islamic aesthetics is inadequate for the appreciation of its iconography, which is pervaded with references to contemporary Muslim beliefs.
We sadly mark the passing of Iwan Tirta on 31 July 2010. A celebrated Indonesian batik artist and fashion-designer, Tirta successfully reconstituted batik into a vibrant modern artform and fashion. Dr Maria Wronska-Friend documents Tirta's legacy to shaping Indonesia's cultural identity on the international stage during the late 20th century. Still on the Indonesian focus, Russell Kelty discusses a rare terracotta mid 9th century Buddhist-Hindu sculpture of Kala in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Keeping us up to date on recent and coming events, Ann Macarthur previews the forthcoming exhibition The First Emperor: China's Entombed Warriors at the Art Gallery of NSW, Paolo Hooke writes about John Huie and the 2011 Chinese Garden Chamber Music Festival, while Hwei-f'en Cheah reports on the recent 2010 Borneo International Beads Conference.
Thanks to all the contributors and to James Bennett, Sue Bassett and Josefa Green for their support in developing this issue of TAASA Review.