I am writing to publicly thank the many people who made the June to September 2002 “Tracking Cloth” exhibition a great success. This wonderfully creative exhibition of textile and fiber art, which toured the Indonesian cities of Denpasar, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, was the culmination of three years work by Wollongong City Gallery.
The exhibition demonstrated that Australian artists have been positively influenced by their experiences with Indonesia. Symbolically this illustrated to a wide audience that Australians respect the Indonesian people — a message that was very well accepted at all levels, including the political elite and the press (including generous coverage by The Jakarta Post).
In fact, in an extraordinary expression of warmth, Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri stated that “the exhibition had created a symbol of goodwill between our two neighboring nations”. This goodwill was also reflected in the caliber of exhibition patrons, which included the governor of Bali, Dewa Beratha, the Crown Princess of Yogyakarta, Sri Gusti Pembayun, and in Jakarta former trade minister and Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore, Gen. (ret) Luhut Panjaitan.
Within Indonesia the exhibition was interpreted as a sophisticated means of bringing very different people together. Major articles appeared in Indonesian’s largest daily newspapers discussing not only the cultural merits of the works, but perhaps more importantly, the new language of mutual respect these works conveyed.
Most journalists commented that “Tracking Cloth” was a way of finding social and cultural similarities, rather than just concentrating on and illuminating differences and disagreements. In contrast to the differences that have so often defined the Indonesia-Australia relationship, the exhibition created a safe space in which issues could be raised. It was a starting point. And from these relationships of trust and understanding local opportunities in education, business and diplomacy are already flowing.