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1642 Large Toraja Ceremonial Cloth with a Row of Female Musicians

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Large complete panel depicting a procession of women musicians with their musical instrument (most likely the Tanpura).

MY NOTES ON 1642

This textile is similar to the 'Ceremonial Cloth  and Heirloom Textile with Row of Female Musicians' at the LACMA.

The LACMA textile is stated to be over 3 centuries old but 1642 is estimated to be younger.

Wovensouls Asset 1642 has the following unique features to suggest that it is neither a reproduction nor a copy.

MY NOTES ON 1642

The similarity of layout with the museum textiles is self-evident

We see a number of women wearing similar outfits and carrying a musical instrument each, all facing one direction.

But major differences also exist.

For example,

1. The faces in 1642 are slim, long and angular and look distinctly different from the round plump faces in the Gujarat textiles.

So while the theme is the same, this textile has been created with a well-developed identity of its own. In a copy or a reproduction  the sense of identity would have to be sacrificed completely in order to be a good copy or reproduction. So clearly this is NOT a wannabe.

2. The red is deep and unmistakable and my guess is that this is cinnabar.

Shri Jagdish Mittal's states :  “the use of a red background in paintings is an ancient hindu tradition being especially prevalent in western indian miniature paintings from the 11th to the 16th century  and in paintings from many other styles in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In old scrolls the red used was an expensive pigment made by the artists from mineral ‘singraf hingul”  or crude cinnabar. But from 1840 this pigment as well as some others disappeared..... as synthetically made colors  produced in Europe, became easily available,  cheap and easy to us

3. The cloth is very loosely woven – a bit like gauze. Now in some sections the fabric there appears to be  a coat of stiffening agent.This has not been applied uniformly so  sections of the cloth remain bare & exposed. The weave in these bare section is floppy to handle. Then, looking at the character of the fiber itself  – that is  thick, stiff & rigid – I believe that this is linen.

 4. In this case we can see that this cloth is not double-sided and the back is different from the front. In this textile all the musicians are facing the left end of the textile (as we stand opposite the textile). As this is not double-sided it is easy  to identify the back and the front 

5. Note the skirts worn all have unique designs. This suggests a leisurely creation by the artist in which special attention has been paid to create a variety of motifs.

6. Assuming that these are ceremonial cloths, there should be ceremonies associated with these cloths. And ceremonies that are followed by a community would have been practiced over generations and the practice would span decades. And therefore, the supporting materials - such as these textiles - would continue to be in demand and continue to be produced - not just five of six times in the history of mankind, but dozens of times if not hundreds of times over decades and centuries.

And so, my conclusion is that 1642 is an authentic but younger remnant of the ceremonial traditions.

While literature calls these 'ceremonial' textiles, there is no further elaboration on the ceremony.

As long as the community continues it's traditional ceremonies, even after allowances fro minor variations in method & materials, the overall construct would remain intact. And so such cloths should be seen either in use or in museums or in memory especially in well-preserved cultures.

Now the common understanding is that this group of textiles is from Toraja. In my initial interviews with local people in Toraja, there is no obvious recognition of this type of cloth. Secondly it is radically different from other textiles of Toraja. 

And so the original notes written by textile lovers and travelers in the past leave me with unanswered questions.

This is the subject of my next exploratory research project in Toraja.

 In the meanwhile the details of 1642 are:

Age: Estimated to be from the 1800s or earlier (if the red is Cinnabar)

Size:  182 x 44 inches / 462 x 112 cm

Condition: Parts of borders missing, several holes, tears etc. Yellow staining over a large section of the cloth.

 

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This item has spent a lifetime being used for the purpose of its creation with the original artist/user. Signs of this life lived heartily may be present on the piece in the form of stains, thread loss, loose threads, holes, tears, color run and other imperfections. Therefore the condition must be assumed to be “not” perfect. More photos of such imperfections will be provided on request.

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