Bincang Noesa #2 – Myra Widiono

It was sunny Friday afternoon, so hot and the street was quiet at the time. We arrived at Haji Nawi, where we found an unique place that known as Warlami. We had a look inside and found ourselves surrounded by amazing, well-made, natural dyed fabrics. We can feel the mystic aura that inherited by our ancestors. The owner of the place, Mrs. Myra Widiono invited us to sit down in her comfy sofa. While we were impressed by the fabrics hanging around, we were curious about Mrs. Myra herself and how did she established this place. We assigned Bimantoro Jaya, our new copywriter who works for Noesa for his internship program to do the interview.

Bimantoro Jaya (BJ):  So Mrs. Myra, we know that you’re really have an interesting passion. You love Indonesian arts, especially handicrafts and fabrics. There must be some history about how it all started, would you tell us from the beginning?

Myra Widiono (MW): It’ll be a long story, I was originally an architect and of course I’ve learned about buildings, right? As an architect and a wife, I was in charge of a company that takes part around Indonesia, consists of 60.000 employees. At the time I believe that Indonesia has a cultural richness, especially its fabrics, and there hadn’t any arts and cultural exhibitions like nowadays INACRAFT, JCC, Dekranas, etc. I persuaded middle aged women in a community that I was also in charge of to collect fabrics from where they live. And from their contribution, we held our own exhibition in a well-known club at the time, and it was our first fabric exhibition, it was called “Pameran Tenun Indonesia”, and it drawn attention to weaving enthusiasts. Fortunately, we didn’t have to spend a lot of money because the contribution of the community. And then in 2004, we held our second exhibition, where we asked those fabric enthusiast inputs, such as kinds of patterns from different regions although they were only an ordinary middle aged women, they knew things about fabrics. Coincidentally, there was an organization called Dekranas (Dewan Kerajinan Nasional) headed by the first lady of Indonesia. And we were invited to take part in the promotion field. Professionals and related ministries also attended the event. I got interested to not only fabrics because that event also exhibited different types of crafts such as wooden handicrafts, webbings, ceramics, etc. I learned a lot from there and got amazed by how our ancestors can make those handicrafts, and it made me to decide to leave architecture study.

BJ: You’re well-known as the one who collect the gems for a book that discusses about Indonesian arts and culture, and also the head of Rumah Rakuji, would you tell us how it all started?

MW: I travelled a lot around Indonesia, and took part in some kind of a book team; I was the coordinator and the one who decide the crafts that will be discussed in our first art and culture book titled “Exquisite Indonesia” which was published by Dekranas in the first 5 years of traveling. Then I became the secretary-general 2 years later. I realized that handicrafts are degraded nowadays, early handicrafts are made with love and it was intended for rituals piece by our ancestors, but now handicrafts are made carelessly. That was when I decided to continue my passion in Rumah Rakuji.

BJ: So that’s when Rumah Rakuji was established?

MW: Rumah Rakuji was already established since before I got interested to other Indonesian culture arts besides fabrics, and it used to be an art studio from paintings, dances, and music. Because I was in Dekranas, Rumah Rakuji received webbings, ceramics, and wooden crafts as well. One day I was thinking to myself “I can only do small things, but at least I do something”. I also think Kalimantan people can make such beautiful handicrafts but why are they still poor up to now? I want to make their handicraft to go international, get into exhibitions, etc. They couldn’t do it perhaps the fare would be very expensive, that is the purpose of Rumah Rakuji; we concern about crafters that out of touch, perhaps it’s because we feel the love towards handicrafts.

“I can only do small things, but at least I do something”

BJ: Then what about Warlami? How did it started?

MW: When I was still in Dekranas, I often invited by IKN (Industri Kreatif Nasional) and Swarna Fest, where I became acquainted with natural dye communities, and we conducted weaving workshop in Kalimantan, Flores, and Sumba, and taught the villagers to use natural dye, and then I started to feel that I should only use natural dye for our fabrics and stop using synthetics as well. After I left Dekranas, I became a member of Gerakan Pewarna Alam, I often ordered crafts from people of many regions and show it in exhibitions, I wasn’t intended to sell the crafts to make money, rather to make their products to get well-known and go international, and some of it got an award from UNESCO. However, we realized that Gerakan Pewarna Alam was only a program from the government, and we cannot bringing it up into a larger market and improve the products quality, that was when we established Warlami in 2015.

BJ: Warlami sure have fine fabrics, where did you get those materials? How did you make connection between Warlami and the artisans?

MW: From East Kalimantan there was Ulap Doyo, it was also the name of their product, which means it is a fabric made from Doyo leaves. I was interested with it because it was the only region that uses clothing with natural fibers, the pattern was literally named “ikat”, which also known for its most used technique by weavers “ikat weaving”, so its name is after the name of that pattern. Nowadays weavings are made carelessly, although it’s a good thing that they made it for traditional dress, but consumers won’t be satisfied with its quality. Long story short, they’re now supplying for Warlami with their products with their original patterns.

These pictures above are the examples of the collection that are stored in one of the rooms in Rumah Rakuji, which Mrs. Myra collected from her wonderful journey.

BJ: From what we’ve heard, you were also trained people weaving and natural dye techniques. Does training them is a piece of cake for you?

MW: Nope, it was not that easy, even now. Because there are 30 weavers in Tanjung Isu village, however only one person who really can do weaving, so people only order to her, the rest of them were hesitated to learn before we teach them so. We divided their part, so there were people who manage the yarns, help dyeing, etc. Fortunately, beginners from Batubura village were interested as well and we were surprised that they were easier to be taught than Tanjung Isu beginners.  Then after I left Dekranas, those people often got orders from Pemda, but Pemda prefer fabrics which made of synthetic dyes because they love brightly colors.

BJ: People that you trained were used to use synthetic dyes before you encouraged them with natural stuffs. Are there any comments from them about changing the dye material from what they’ve relied for a long time?

MW: They only think about the customers, we can’t intervene with what the customers want, if they want them to make synthetic dye products, so be it. Those synthetic dye colors are made from Benang Toko (yarn from the store). But they did said natural dyes resulting more excellent colors though.

BJ: Have you ever learned natural dyeing?

MW: Yeah of course, I learned it when Dekranas held its workshop like I told you before. But I only know the general basics of the techniques. So I’m not that good at dyeing technique (laughing).

These pictures above are the examples of the collection that are stored in one of the rooms in Rumah Rakuji, which Mrs. Myra collected from her wonderful journey.

BJ: Rumah Rakuji and Warlami are often attend culture and art exhibitions, which is sound interesting. But you do aware that kind of exhibitions won’t attract many people especially young people, right? What encouragements that made you confident about it?

MW: That’s a good question though, I’m more focusing to the artisans and I’m not forcing youngsters like “C’mon come to our exhibition!” but of course I would be glad if a community like Noesa is helping us. We joined an international community such as Indonesian Heritage Society, and they visited us several times and we’ve shared experiences to each other. They wanted to learn every piece of handicrafts philosophies from us and asked if they could visit us every once a year so they can see what’s new in Rumah Rakuji.

BJ: You must have seen thousands of traditional crafts, which one that you really love?

MW: Well, I just open my heart for everything, then I’m sure I will get easily amazed by it. I brought Rosvita (a weaver from Watublapi) to Belu, a village that known for its weaving, so she can learn more. She only knew Ikat and simple patterns, but in there, there are 3 techniques, songket, ikat, and sotis, which is new for her. So she saw how the harmonic configuration from several techniques turned into a pattern, so it’ll bring up curiosity in her, and who knows she has innovations in her mind? She’s been living in a village so she can share new ideas with others.

BJ: If so, what is your favorite product that you’ve produced? Or what is the most people love from your products?

MW: Warlami is only focusing on natural dyes and a place to share natural dye knowledge, but when it comes to products, I suggest people to talk to my friends in Warlami, because Warlami consists of several entities. If you have your own craft, please develop it, pour your personal inspiration to it! Whatever it’ll cost, is it from your own money or look for sponsors. Goods you see here are not in their entirely form. What people really care is the product, not how beautiful the color is. Then what is the definition of wholeness of product? Is it the authenticity? Excellency? People will hesitate if the color is bad in the first place.

These pictures above are the examples of the collection that are stored in one of the rooms in Rumah Rakuji, which Mrs. Myra collected from her wonderful journey.

BJ: What do you think about synthetic dye?

MW: Well it’s synthetic all right, if we’re talking about synthetic dyes for textiles, it has an effect on our health for your information. They said it’s bad for our skin, and the waste will become pollution and contamination. But it doesn’t mean I speak ill of synthetic things. Different from natural dye, many people believes fabrics that made with natural dye can cure sickness, a fever for example. And Sumba village use natural dyed fabrics to cover the dead, and it resist the foul odor, because the fabrics contain spice that can absorbs smell.

BJ: Does the artisans you have here were fully trained by you or they’ve already inherited their skill from their ancestors?

MW: The artisans from Rumah Rakuji are already have inherited their ancestor skills. Unfortunately, as time goes by, almost all people who have that kind of skill are already passed away, only a few people who’ve been taught and inherited it. Not to mention the youngsters who are hesitate to learn old stuff like that. I brought weavers to teach them and trained them again, some kind of skill resurrection I suppose.

These pictures above are the examples of the collection that are stored in one of the rooms in Rumah Rakuji, which Mrs. Myra collected from her wonderful journey.

BJ: Who’s going to be your successor? Your children, perhaps?

MW: Surely I can’t force my children to be like their mother. Kids are developing by their own. Although I would like to see them continuing my steps. They appreciate me, however. Let them be theirselves, for me the most important thing to do is to plant love as a mother.

BJ: What are your hopes and wishes for Rumah Rakuji and Warlami for the future?

MW: We want to expand the market of course, so people of Warlami and Rumah Rakuji can live more prosperously. And bring up better competitiveness. Some of the entities aren’t fit with natural dye products, that was because they were lack of the interest in sustainability products. I hope we’ll get more support from other fashion industries that can make our product more preferable. And we have to educate each other that natural dye is not a natural exploitation.

After a long exciting story, Mrs. Myra invited us to take a look around and she explained all the things inside Warlami. We saw hundreds of different fabrics that have their own characteristics every each of them, they were soft, seamless, and beautiful. Mrs. Myra also borrowed us a book written by the country’s first lady, just like she mentioned. And we learned tons of new thing about crafts around Indonesia.

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