Bernhard Bart

Research Associate

In 2008, I founded a weaving studio near Bukittinggi in West Sumatra, intending to conserve the highest quality songket weavings. For the past 13 years, I have trained many young people between 18 and 25 to be weavers. The studio focuses primarily on recreating the traditional silk and metallic Minangkabau songkets. We do a lot of research to make as closest a reproduction as possible, both design and quality.

Today the workshop carries out the entire production of making songket under one roof: designing the patterns, dyeing the silk (mostly with organic dye), warping the loom, making the heddles and picking the pattern, weaving, and adding finishes of pillow lace or fringes. We prepare everything on-site except for silk and metallic thread, which we must purchase.

But it took quite a while to get this far.

My songket journey began in 1996 when I stayed a few months in West Sumatra to learn Indonesian. During this time, I traveled pretty extensively in the Minangkabau region. There I noticed a decline in the quality of many kinds of handicrafts, especially in the weaving of songket, which was once flourishing. Since then, I have wanted to prove that it is still possible to weave songkets of the same high quality as in the past. Until today, my passion for songket has never diminished.

I started researching Minangkabau songket and then songket from Palembang as well as from Aceh. This research is still continuing today. Currently, I am documenting songket patterns from these areas and have a collection of more than 2000 photographs of different old songket textiles. I find songket designs fascinating, but I am even more interested in weaving techniques and looms as I am an architect by training.

My studio gradually became successful. In November 2012, two of our shoulder cloths received a UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts, South-East Asia. We held twice exhibitions in Jakarta (2006 Cemara6Galeri, and 2011 Bentera Budaya). In addition, we participated in exhibitions in Jakarta (2014 Museum Tekstil) and Kuala Lumpur (2016 National Museum of Malaysia). Finally, in 2018, I curated an exhibit in Switzerland (Kulturort Garnlager Lyssach) on songket produced by my studio.

I have published a few articles about my weaving studio and the textile patterns on some stone statues from the Singasari and the Majapahit Kingdom in East Java. I have also been invited by several institutions in Jakarta, Bangkok, Zuerich, London, Oxford, Hangzhou, Leiden, and Singapore to talk about songkets and my work.

My goal is to keep the traditional handicraft of songket weaving alive. I hope that more younger people are interested in hand weaving and will adapt the craft to modern times while still maintaining the high quality of songkets of earlier times.