In early 2008, the Gallery’s internationally renowned collection of textiles from Southeast Asia was enriched by a gift of fine traditional textiles from the Philippines. Comprising two abaca fibre skirt-cloths from Mindanao along with a man’s loincloth and a woman’s skirt from Luzon, the gift demonstrates the diversity and skill of textile weaving in the Philippines.
Women from the Subanen and Tagakalao cultures of the island of Mindanao traditionally weave abaca, a thread made from the wild banana plant, using simple back-tension looms. Abaca fibre is typically used to create tubular skirts for women and short trousers for men, clothing that continues to be integral to life-cycle ceremonies in many societies of the southern Philippines. Textiles are also designated as feminine objects in the exchanges that accompany marriages. These skirts feature geometric warp ikat designs in red, black and white – colours that symbolise status and relationships in many parts of Southeast Asia. Vibrant cotton skirts are important ceremonial garments for women of traditional Gaddang communities from the mountainous regions of northern Luzon. Featuring bold bands of colour, this skirt is decorated with supplementary weaving, embroidery and beading. Beads and shells symbolise prestige and spiritual protection and are among the most ancient means of ornamenting the human body in Southeast Asia.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra