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Tapis Balak (Large or Arrogant Tapis)

early 20th century


Unknown Artist

  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Lampung Sumatra Indonesia
    early 20th century
    Media category
    Materials used
    silk, cotton or bast fibres, gold-wrapped threads, sequins, natural dyes, warp-faced plain weave, couching
    102.4 x 63.9 cm
    Gift of Dr John Yu and Dr George Soutter 2006
    Not on display
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    This tapis skirt, composed of two pieces, is elaborately decorated with gold-wrapped threads and the additional designs ('sasab') created by the threads used to attach (couch; 'cucuk') the metal to the cloth. It also has floral and animal motifs and variations on geometric shapes in the bands between the gold panels. The letters KE and H are also prominent in these bands. While the use of letters is not uncommon on tapis skirts, usually it provides information in the form of a message or a poem. Sometimes, as here, the weaver used abbreviations. Without information about the family to which this tapis once belonged and the weaver who made it, however, the meaning of the letters and their placement on this tapis will remain unknown. The extensive use of gold-wrapped threads indicates that this tapis came from an elite family, and would have been used in traditional dances. The weft threads, which are not visible, are blue, and the warp threads are brown, red, ochre, green, and cream. The combination of colours and the decoration suggest that this skirt was made in northern Lampung for a woman belonging to the Pepadon social group.

    Asian Art Department, AGNSW, 2011

    Tapis are elaborate skirts made in Lampung province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Women wore them with matching jackets during special events and ceremonies. Tapis were high-status ceremonial textiles that indicated the social rank of the wearer and her family. People also gave these skirts away as prestige gifts to indicate a family’s wealth and social standing. Tapis therefore were associated with power, status, and wealth. The more elaborate the skirt and those with the most gold-wrapped threads denoted the highest rank. Widows’ skirts, however, had limited decoration.

    There are many social groups in Lampung, and these are called 'marga'. Each has specific conventions for clothing. These social regions are also divided between two traditions of social rules ('adat') – the Saibatin and Pepadon groups. The Saibatin have hereditary chiefs, while the Pepadon groups choose their chiefs based on achievements. Colours and the organisation of the stripes of the foundation cloth relate to the many clan groups in Lampung. For example, the Semangka from the southwestern coast employed bright red and yellow colours, and covered the dark, indigo blue sections of the fabric with secondary decorations. The Kauer people used darker colours with narrow red and yellow stripes and numerous mirrors. Among the Lampung groups, only the Kauer wore a short jacket with the skirts. Of course, the regular social and business exchanges between people in Lampung means that many of the skirts incorporate ideas beyond the 'marga' in which it was woven.

    The tapis skirts in the AGNSW collection have base fabrics woven in warp-faced plain weave where the warp (threads tied to the loom) and weft (threads interlaced with the warps during weaving to create the cloth) intertwine alternately. Warp-faced means that there are more warp threads than weft ones, so the weft threads are hidden from view.

    Traditional colours on tapis cloths include dark red, browns, indigo blue, dark green, ochre-yellow, and cream. The main decorative materials comprise horizontal, coloured stripes, gold- and silver wrapped threads, beads, pieces of felt and woven wool, and coloured yarns. The metal-wrapped threads, felt, wool, and coloured threads are couched (attached with stitches; 'cucuk') onto the surface of the cloth. The metal-wrapped threads are fastened to the fabric with threads sewn in a pattern, a decorative technique called 'sasab'. Sometimes the gold-wrapped threads were attached to paper-card before being couched onto the fabric. In addition to couching decorative materials to the cloth, the weavers also used brightly coloured yarns to embroider patterns onto the skirts. 'Cermuk' (pronounced chermuk) was the application of mirrors and mica to the tapis cloth. Since tapis are elaborate productions, making one could take up to a year.