All-too familiar catastrophic art

Lower garment and shoulder cloth depicting the tsunami of 2004

Lower garment and shoulder cloth depicting the tsunami of 2004, 2006-2007, by Mila Sungkar (Javanese, born 1960). Silk. Acquisition made possible by Mr. and Mrs. M. Glenn Vinson, Jr.

Seven years ago the museum acquired a remarkable textile from the Indonesian island of Java. Made by the artist Milla Sungkar, the cloth depicted her reaction to the devastating tsunami of 2004. After seeing images of the completely inundated province of Aceh in North Sumatra, and hearing about the more than 170,000 people killed by the tsunami, she expressed her grief in a batik textile depicting the catastrophe.

Lower garment and shoulder cloth depicting the tsunami of 2004

Lower garment and shoulder cloth depicting the tsunami of 2004, 2006-2007, by Mila Sungkar (Javanese, born 1960). Silk. Acquisition made possible by Mr. and Mrs. M. Glenn Vinson, Jr.

Nine years have passed since Aceh and neighboring regions in South and Southeast Asia were ravaged by that earthquake and tsunami. Yet images like the one depicted on this textile are still familiar. In the years since Aceh, we have seen the devastation from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and more recently, from typhoons in the Philippines. In November of 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines) became the strongest cyclone ever to hit land in recorded history. Over 6000 people died in the Philippines alone, and thousands more were left injured and homeless.

As has become all too clear, global warming is a factor in the increased intensity and frequency of super storms. A few days after the typhoon, in a remarkable speech at the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, the Philippine delegate Naderev Saño spoke for the people of his country and around the world urging global leaders to take substantive and meaningful action on global climate change. He spoke with tears streaming, still not knowing the fate of all of his own friends and relatives. Milla Sungkar conveyed her anguish through art; Naderev Saño through this speech.

Let us hope they are heard.

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