Tucked away in one of the rooms at the National Textile Museum in Kuala Lumpur is a selection of handwoven textiles displayed on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.
These are part of the personal collection of the late traditional textile pioneer Sulaiman Ghani, which were gifted by his family to the Department of Museums Malaysia after his passing in September last year.
These 46 pieces form the bulk of the exhibits at the Sulaiman Ghani: Malaysian Textile Art Activist Exhibition, with a central highlight in the middle of the room, featuring several songket minang shawls made from luxurious silk and gold thread.
These shawls, with intricate bunga lapan pecah and bamboo shoot motifs, can also be used as tengkuluak, the headcloth worn by Minangkabau women for ceremonial occasions.
“This is the first time we have having such an exhibition in honour of his service and contribution towards the textile crafts industry, especially in batik and weaving. This exhibition also presents his commitment to human development programmes for prison inmates and patients in rehabilitation centres, ” says Hadijah Mohd Yunus, director of the National Textile Museum.
Indeed, the late Sulaiman was known for his dedication to the textile arts and his steadfast belief in the role of art in therapy and psychological rehabilitation.
Born in Muar, Johor, in 1958, he began his career at the Malaysian Handicraft Institute in 1982 and went on to become associate professor at the department of textile design at University Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) faculty of arts and design from 1988 to 2018.
Among his biggest contributions to the nation’s textile industry was as a pioneer and teacher of textile weaving in prisons.
Since 2009, he supervised traditional textiles and weaving programmes at the Malaysia Prisons Department, with the Kajang Women’s Prison the first to receive his guidance in batik making using the shibori technique.
Elsewhere, he was involved in programmes at several other places, including the Pengkalan Chepa Prison in Kelantan, the Bentong and Penor prisons in Pahang, the Tapah Prison in Perak, and the Marang Prison and Dungun Correctional Centre in Terengganu.
Among other things, the inmates were taught songket weaving, takat embroidery and batik handicraft.
These classes are part of the entrepreneurship and rehabilitation programme for inmates.
“They didn’t come with any background in the arts, but over time, these inmates were taught how to produce high-quality textile products. The late professor’s legacy lives on also through these programmes and their work, ” says Hadijah.
Earlier this year, the Malaysia Department of Prisons won second and third place in the fashion category in the Piala Seri Endon with their submission, titled Beauty Behind The Wall.
Sulaiman Ghani: Malaysian Textile Art Activist Exhibition features an array these products by the inmates, such as batik dresses and shirts.
There are also linen-cotton kaftans made by students of UiTM, where they demonstrate their skill in resist (brushstroke) and patchwork techniques.
“We hope that this exhibition will bring together textile enthusiasts, academicians, students as well the general public to honour the legacy of the late Professor Sulaiman and his contribution to the field of textile art. Hopefully this show will inspire textile artists and craftsmen to come up with ideas that are sophisticated, innovative and memorable, ” concludes Hadijah.
Sulaiman Ghani: Malaysian Textile Art Activist Exhibition is on at Saindera Gallery, National Textile Museum, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, Kuala Lumpur till Dec 24. Opening hours: 9am to 6pm daily. Admission fees apply.