I’m back with the final installment of mini-reviews of Kuching’s many museums. There are a few I haven’t visited and a few still in development, aside from the Sarawak Museum Campus project which I’ve been volunteering with. The quantity of museum projects past and present reflects Sarawak as a confident state. Aware of how its diverse local cultures and unique colonial history can help it to assert Sarawakian identity.
The 1990s catalogue from the establishment of the Islamic Heritage Museum was available to read at the entrance desk. It told a rather familiar story. The collection was originally brought together, and housed in a colonial era madrasa building, to provide an Islamic arts museum on a then unprecedented scale for Southeast Asia. The idea being that this addition to the existing museum complex would be a source of local pride, education and mutual appreciation. An ambitious yet well-intended project at the time, it is still a lovely contemplative building with the lingering aura of a place of learning. The collection has some real gems but the interpretation is dated and occasionally missing, which is a shame.
The Textile Museum Sarawak was one of the first I visited upon arrival four months ago. That it was not the first on my list to blog about is perhaps telling, though the beautiful Pavilion Building is a treat inside and out. Its exterior beauty and that of the neighbouring square tower and colonial courthouse, now an arts centre, is undermined by the vast Merdeka Plaza shopping mall which shot up barely a metre from it a few years ago. Inside, if you can see past the uncanny effects of the weaving mannequins, the collection is excellent and shows historic and contemporary examples of textile crafts. They have Iban pua kumbu weavings, Orang Ulu sunhats, beadwork and bark cloth examples as well as Malay songket. I am curious what will be done with this lovely building after the new museum opens as it will feature many of the fine examples currently on show here.
The Tun Jugah Foundation, what a relief! Professionally displayed and well-maintained collections and a studio full of looms in use and thread in various stages of being ikat dyed. When I visited, there was a young weaver in the studio, working on a subtle and complex contemporary cloth. The bead gallery was also a highlight. Sensitively displayed examples and a delicate design approach helped me to understand both how beads are worn and valued by the Iban and the individual beauty of each bead type.
This blog marks the end of this run of museum-y entries and of my time in Kuching. I’ve met amazing people, some friends for life. I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself and about living and working in Sarawak. Hopefully I’ve done some useful work for the project too. Next stop Sabah for coral conservation.