The Fowler Museum has two shows running concurrently, Courtly and Urban Batik from Java and Nini Towok’s Spinning Wheel: Cloth and the Cycle of Life in Kerek, Java. The Courtly and Urban batik show ends on the 5th of September however, and should not be missed. Nini Towok’s Spinning wheel ends December 5. I was greatly impressed. These are some of the most interesting cloths from this area and it's a rare opportunity to see the museum's collection of Indonesian textiles culled from their extensive holdings. On show are a few refined batiks made in Java’s royal courts or from urban workshops. These stand in contrast to the rustic rural batiks of Kerek (pieces in the second part of the show). The workmanship is fine, and the hands that designed the cloth are well trained. You can match these pieces with any store bought cloth you find today. The pieces range from an impressively large skirt cloth for a Javanese sultan to a slim and elegant silk scarf regarded as suitable for an itinerant entertainer or other women of questionable repute.
The community of Kerek is the last place in Java where batik is still produced on handwoven cotton cloth and where a full range of handwoven textiles provides the foundation for a remarkable system of knowledge. Kerek is small enclave that was rarely visited by outsiders until the 1960's. Named after Nini Towok, the Javanese goddess who cultivates cotton in the heavens and sends her yarn to Earth in for form of moonbeams, the exhibition explores the multiple meanings of Kerek’s rustic but beautiful textiles. There are many fine examples of these rarely seen cloths hung in the galleries. They illustrate various techniques, patterns, and color combinations of the ongoing design process of batik. The exhibition concludes with a series of seventeen outfits, each specific to a particular individual according to their sex, age, social status, occupation, and place of residence.