A handsomely staged exhibition of Indonesian textiles at Mosman Art Gallery (3 May – 13 July 2014) resonates with the public - and for a good reasons. This tactile and luminous show is rich in meanings, revealing and visually gratifying. It was conceived by John Cheeseman, the Gallery Director, and Dr Siobhan Campbell, who curated the exhibition with a considerable depth of knowledge and personal flair.

Fotoware Image
Beneath the pair of figures on this cloth there is a square section with a central flower or sun motif, this would once have featured a circular mirror disk (now missing). Image: -
© Australian Museum

The alluring examples of the Indonesian fabric are from the collection of Dr John Yu AC and Dr George Soutter AM – outstanding advocates, collectors and connoisseur of Asian art. Their interest and expertise in Indonesian textiles had developed over many years, beginning with a chance encounter. Bali became an essential place for collecting and joyful exploration – the starting point for the ‘collector’s journey’ in gathering fabric, understanding and appreciation.

‘Bali provided a gateway to the rest of Indonesia – as Professor Adrian Vickers points out in the catalogue’s introduction – as a hub of sales of cloth from the eastern islands and because of the rich diversity of Balinese fabric tradition.’

Dr Siobhan Campbell prepared the beautiful catalogue with over a hundred high quality photos. It demonstrates, so well, how the aesthetic appreciation of textiles multiplies with the knowledge.

Related to the exhibition, a public forum on the ‘Art of Collecting Indonesian Textiles’ held on 10 May 2014 brought together an ample number of fabric enthusiasts, connoisseurs, academics, curators and artists. The forum explored the vital role that private collectors play in the development of public collections, museums and galleries.

It is crucial to understand the interplay between the institutions and private collectors. The Australian Museum’s collection, numbering nearly 700 Indonesian textiles, was developed in large part through the help and contribution of private collectors – half of it through generous donations.


Dr John Yu, a distinguished paediatrician, was the Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Camperdown and a strong advocate of relocating it to a new building in Westmead in 1995. Yu served as the Chancellor of the University of New South Wales (2000-2005). He is an expert on the decorative arts of Southeast Asia and as a Trustee was associated with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Musica Viva Australia, Penrith Regional Gallery and the Powerhouse Museum. Yu was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1989 and named Australian of the Year in 1996. In 2001 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.

The National Gallery of Australia holds one of the richest public collections of Indonesian textiles in the world with over 1200 works. They are accessible to scholars, researchers and textile enthusiasts across the globe through their website.