Elaborately embroidered square cloths are often employed to cover the elegant platters containing items such as gifts and food that are central to Malay rituals, particularly weddings in Islamic courts. In the past such textiles possibly covered the offerings (sesajen) made to the gods. The floral motifs and foliated scrolling on this cloth are arranged in a formal symmetrical pattern. The schematic design arrangement is related to the mandala form, popular throughout Southeast Asia. In Islamic iconography the use of symmetrical floral patterns denotes purity, the endless realms of divinity and Allah’s infinite presence.
Drawing on designs typical of Mughal India, along with Chinese and European influences, such ceremonial textiles were admired for their exotic qualities and opulence. The brilliant golden colour of this textile from the Palembang sultanate of south Sumatra denotes the textile’s royal heritage. Sumatran courts were conspicuous in their displays of gold-encrusted garments, textiles, jewellery and regalia, reflecting Sumatra’s strategic location in international maritime trade.
Located on the Malacca Straits, Palembang has a long tradition of trade. The region’s textiles created from exotic materials such as imported silks, gold and silver wrapped threads and sequins display designs that reflect the interchange of ideas and philosophies. They also functioned as signifiers of wealth and power.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014