Cultural Conversations is one of many platforms for ACC alumni to share their experiences and expertise with a community of artists, practitioners, and beyond. On June 4, scholar Urmila Mohan's shared her experiences while on her ACC Individual Fellowship in which she researched traditional Balinese textiles and conducted comparative study in Indonesia.

In 2018, ACC awarded Dr. Mohan an Individual Fellowship to research traditional textiles in Bali, Java, and Flores, and conduct comparative study of textile-production centers in Indonesia. This research builds on her many years of work as a scholar of material culture and religion. She received her B.F.A in design from National Institute of Design, India (1998), M.F.A. in studio art from Pennsylvania State University (2009) and her Ph.D. in anthropology from University College, London (2015). In 2016, Dr. Mohan began her two-year appointment as Bard Graduate Center/American Museum of Natural History Postdoctoral Fellow in Museum Anthropology. The resulting exhibition, Fabricating Power with Balinese Textiles, opened at the Bard Graduate Center in February 2018. Her fellowship research focused on producers of ritual textiles as both artisans and practitioners who embody spiritual power through their material products.

Urmila Mohan weaving in Flores

While Dr. Mohan had conducted previous fieldwork in Bali in 2016, her ACC Fellowship provided the opportunity to travel more extensively across the archipelago. She surveyed weaving centers in Bali, ikat production in villages of Flores, and batik production centers in Java through the multiple lens of a scholar, artist, and educator. Her research yielded hands-on experiences with batik, ikat, and other textile production techniques, as well as on-site observation of ceremonies, rites of passage, and the role of textiles. Pictured right is the purification of metal objects in the ceremony of Tumpak Landep in Bali, which uses ritual textiles. Through her observations and interviews, Dr. Mohan explored how textiles form part of the mediation between human and spiritual realms. 

Dr. Mohan also expanded her network of relationships with artists, curators, scholars, and students through a give and take of interviews, lectures, presentations, and conversation. Here, she speaks to those relationships, and how they fostered a growing awareness of her role within this broader, global community of artists and scholars:

“It is a truism that travel transforms but the opportunity to visit different parts of Indonesia has indeed changed me in significant ways. These insights will influence my personal and professional aspirations and relationships with colleagues, students and others. Traveling through parts of Indonesia taught me how to be a good guest (tamu) by exercising more patience, listening well and being willing to share my own life experiences and skills with those who were curious.

By trying to connect with the people I met in Java, Bali and Flores, I was forced to reflect on my own enculturation both growing up in India as well as, after immigrating to the US, how one can become a responsible ‘global’ citizen. This trip has also helped me think more deeply about my role and responsibilities as a Western scholar as well as being somebody of Indian origin, sharing ancient links with many parts of South East Asia. One of the legacies of this trip was the new friendships I developed with emerging women artists and scholars from Bali and Java. For instance, my review of the Balinese artist Citra Sasmita’s work was born out of a collaborative ethnographic approach, resulting in a socio-culturally as well as aesthetically-sensitive essay on her paintings. These are small but valuable beginnings for larger projects in the future.”

If you couldn't join the conversation on June 4, watch the recording here.


Below: Urmila Mohan and Kebun Indah Batiksters, Java