Daniel James Cole
Faculty Development Grant
I traveled to SE Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore with the primary purpose of studying transitions in traditional dress of the indigenous peoples of Borneo. The island has a trajectory of a fascinating history, with some native peoples practicing headhunting until (and even after) colonization by the British and the Dutch. The traditional dress has morphed from loincloths and shawls made from tree bark, to sophisticated, embellished national costume couture. I had the opportunity to interview several young designers, primarily in the Sabah and Sarawak provinces in the Malaysian territory. These designers are creating new versions of the traditional styles, that are being worn in cultural pageants as well as in weddings and gala occasions. These interviews were captivating and provided the basis for my presentation earlier this month at the Costume Society of America National Conference (in Portland, ME) which was the anticipated outcome of the research. I was honored that my paper was selected for presentation at a conference of this level, and my presentation was very well received; I will likely repeat this presentation this coming fall at the CET.
Museum visits for research on Borneo textiles and clothing took me to several collections around the area, which also expanded my knowledge of some of the other ethnicities of the region. These visits included the Muzium Tekstil Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Museum Tekstil in Jakarta, The Sabah State Museum in Kota Kinabalu, the Sarawak Textile Museum in Kuching, and the Museum of Asian Civilizations in Singapore. I was able to make contact with some of the curatorial staff at some museums who can be of assistance as I pursue further research in the area. I also visited cultural presentations and cultural parks in both Sabah and Sarawak provinces, again taking great note of textiles and traditional dress, and their role in cultural ritual.
The amount of time I was able to spend in the region allowed me to expand my study as my academic curiosity grew and related knowledge was available. As the region of the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei) has a few hundred indigenous ethnic groups, studying them completely would be an impossibility.
But, I was able to visit the Peranakan Museum in Singapore (dedicated to the mix-race ethnicity of the Peranakans who are in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia), and see the cultural aspects of Sundanese culture in Bandung, and saw Balinese traditional performance in traditional textiles and clothing. Also, while in Jakarta, I was able to interview several fashion designers. These included, Sebastian Gunawan, Indonesia’s leading high fashion designer, and Dian Pelangi, who is one of the world’s most important Islamic modest high fashion designers. All of this research in additional areas gave greater depth to my original project and has also deepened my knowledge in the area in general. In the over 10,000 photographs that I shot I was able to capture images that can be of use in the classroom, and also has given me greater inspiration and knowledge for potentially creating an “Asian Style” class. I am certain that I will continue my research in the area and more written work will be forthcoming.