Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, consists of a large landmass and series of smaller islands that cascade across the Sulu Sea towards Malaysia. Its east coast and interior is home to a number of different indigenous people whose textile traditions share technical and material features, including the use of abaca fibre, ikat dying methods and the use of backstrap looms. Although technically similar, the textiles display patterns and motifs designed to meet social or spiritual functions specific to each community. In some cases motifs reflect a deep respect for local flora and fauna and are believed to act as conduits to the divine. Other textiles are designed as ceremonial gifts on occasions such as marriage, or are hung to designate spaces of spiritual importance.
Much of the west coast and archipelagic parts of Mindanao are home to Muslim communities who have strong links with early seafaring Sultanates that resisted Spanish imperialism. They share cultural and religious practises with neighbours in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia and are renowned for their architectural woodcarvings.
Over the centuries, international and local trade introduced new materials and modes of production. This led Mindanao’s artisans to abandon some materials and adopt others to create innovative textiles and crafts for exchange between the region’s diverse communities.
This blouse is typically worn by Mandaya women with an enclosed skirt. The sleeves are decorated with triangular patterns that are a variation of the tumpul designs found in Indian patola and Indonesian textiles. Characteristically, the embroidery is concentrated on the sleeves and an elongated opening for the head is cut into an undecorated bodice.
This blouse is made from the fibres of the 'abaca' plant ('Musa textilis'), a species of banana plant native to the Philippines that has been used in textile production since at least 1686. Traditionally the stalks of the plants are cut and the layers are separated by rubbing them between that hands or feet until the individual fibres are exposed. The rough fibres are immersed in water for cleaning and softening and are later beaten and left to dry. Once completely dry, they are woven together to make yarn. Unlike the locally produced abaca used for the bodice, the silk used in the embroidery was probably imported from China via Muslim traders.
Shirt with silk embroidery on sleeve
abaca fibres, silk; embroidery
133.0 cm sleeve to sleeve; 60.0 cm collar to waist
Gift of Dr John Yu and Dr George Soutter 2005
Not on display
Shown in 1 exhibition
Passion and procession: art of the Philippines, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 03 Oct 2017–28 Jan 2018