This textile is created in double ikat technique, in which both the warp and weft threads are tie-dyed before weaving in order to create a pattern. The complex and time-consuming process is primarily practiced in India, Japan, and Indonesia. Within Indonesia, this technique is known as geringsing, meaning ‘without sickness’ or ‘without evil’ and is produced exclusively in Tenganan Pegeringsingan, a small village in north-east Bali. The people of this village, the Bali Aga, are thought to be the “pure Balinese” because they trace their history to before Hinduism was introduced in Indonesia. Outsiders see the Bali Aga as mysterious and it is commonly rumored that the rust red color in their textiles is achieved by using blood in the dye . Although the red color could have been achieved this way in the past, today the important element of the dye is the Mengkudu root.
Geringsing cloths are very much linked with ritual, and there are restrictions in both their making and use. In general, the concept of purity is very important to the weaving of kamben geringsing and if its fringes are uncut (continuous warp), then it is considered to be without evil. Pure textiles like these are placed under a person’s head during teeth-filing ceremonies and are present at a child’s first hair cut throughout Bali. Kamben geringsing are also worn during rites of passage to protect the wearer during the critical transitions from one life phase to the next as well as by dancers of the baris tekok jago, performed at cremation ceremonies. However, different designs are worn by different groups. Young girls of wealthy families will wear heirloom kamben geringsing in a wayang or shadow puppet pattern, while those from other groups will not. The wayang putri isi motif featured in this textile is the most revered of the approximately twenty designs used in geringsing and is thought to have been originally made for the courts. This complicated design features asymmetrical wayang puppet figures, a man and a woman sitting next to one another, in light brown on black ground. The puppets are pictured in a view that shows the head in profile, but the shoulders facing forward. This is an Indonesian depiction that is reminiscent of the wayang kulit leather shadow puppets and can also be found on temple reliefs from as early as the fourteenth century.
Alexia Fawcett was a Peter Kruger Fellow in the Textiles Department during the summer of 2012.