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The 'Story Cloths of Bali' at the Johnson Museum

Tall tales writ large adorn the walls of the Johnson Museum's lower gallery, where the story cloths of Bali hang like a collage clipped from a giant graphic novel. Indeed these embroideries represent narratives of epic proportion. Curated from the collection of Joseph Fischer, the story cloths, or sulaman, depict scenes from the Mahabarata and Ramayan epics of India.

Fischer is an expert on Indonesian art and culture, and the "Story Cloths of Bali" offers a fascinating glimpse into the Balinese storytelling tradition. The exhibit takes its title from Fischer's latest book, which accompanies the display.

According to the author, the embroideries are crafted by women of the Jembrana and Buleleng districts of western and northern Bali to be used as offerings in "rituals and celebrations connected to Hindu religious beliefs and practices." Fischer, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., is the author of three books on Indonesian traditional art: "Threads of Tradition: Textiles From Indonesia," "The Folk Art of Java" and "The Folk Art of Bali."

"We are so grateful to him for generously sharing these selections from his fine holdings," said Ellen Avril, chief curator and curator of Asian art at the Johnson. "We also extend our thanks to the Cornell Southeast Asia Program (SEAP) and especially to Kaja McGowan [Cornell associate professor of art] for vital support and efforts on behalf of this exhibition and its accompanying programs."

Fischer, who gave a gallery talk at the opening of the museum's winter exhibitions Jan. 27, joined McGowan to lead a tour of the story cloths on Jan. 30 as part of a conference for teachers from regional schools, organized by the museum's educational outreach staff. The conference, "Southeast Asian Art and Performance," included traditional music played on the gamelan, a Javanese bamboo xylophone -- among other related activities presented by the museum's educational outreach staff.

Said Mary Donnelly, SEAP's interim director of outreach, "We got a lot of good feedback, and it was great to have both Joseph Fischer and Kaja there."

The "Story Cloths of Bali" exhibit includes an installation of a representative Balinese village building that resembles a pagoda decorated with embroidered eave hangings.

The exhibit is on view through March 26. On Thursday, March 16, McGowan will give a talk, "Living Threads/Painted Surfaces: Ni Made Suciarmi," at 5:15 p.m. in the museum. For more information, contact Andrea Potochniak, museum publications and publicity coordinator, (607) 254-4563.

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