The seas and oceans that surround what is today the Republic of Indonesia have always been easy to cross. Merchants, missionaries, foreign armies and navies, and immigrants have sought its spices and other natural resources and valued its strategic location across the sea lanes of South and Southeast Asia. Four great religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity—came from foreign countries and were established there. This eclectic cultural interaction introduced many new languages and customs, diverse literature, and a variety of myths. The Mahabharata and Ramayana epics came from India; many stories and immigrants came from China. Bali received myths and tales from Java. Certain craft and art techniques came from the Netherlands and other European countries.
Made by women of the Jembrana and Buleleng districts of western and northern Bali, embroideries called sulaman are used as offerings in rituals and celebrations connected to Hindu religious beliefs and practices. These cloths provide a fascinating glimpse into the tradition of storytelling in Bali, where myths contain much more than intriguing and colorful plots and characters. Passed on from generation to generation, the tales embody beliefs, customs, and personal traits that reflect traditional practice in everyday life, often defining the very nature of traditions and what is required for a contemporary harmonious life. They can represent a veritable cosmos of everything in the universe, seen and unseen.
This exhibition comes from Joseph Fischer, an expert on Indonesian art and culture and author of Story Cloths of Bali, who formed his collection in an effort to preserve a fast-disappearing tradition. We are grateful to him for so generously sharing these selections from his fine holdings of Balinese embroideries. We also extend our thanks to the Cornell Southeast Asia Program, and especially to history of art professor Kaja McGowan, for vital support and efforts on behalf of this exhibition and its accompanying programs.
Chief Curator and Curator of Asian Art