Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Art of the Sarong Kebaya

 I finally managed some time last December to take in the Sarong Kebaya exhibition at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore, which had recently been "refreshed" with new exhibits.

Many of us, when we think about the sarong kebaya, tend to focus on the beautifully embroidered, colourful kebaya tops, complemented by the sarong below.  In fact, this is a rather "modern" interpretation of the sarong kebaya.

The sarong kebaya exhibition reminds us that the sarong kebaya has changed considerably since its early days.  The first series of exhibits displayed were of these early "kebayas".  The typical kebaya then was composed of a long jacket reaching well past the knees, and the sarong was typically dark blue or dark red - this was because they were dyed with natural dyes, and these were the only two colours available.

Subsequently, white became the colour of choice for kebaya tops- beautifully trimmed with exquisite lace. The batik prints on the sarongs became more elaborate, with use of different motiffs and patterns.  Because the sarong kebaya was also used by the Dutch women in Indonesia, they even had Christian motiffs like a cross, an anchor and a heart to represent faith, hope and charity.  Some batik designers even took inspiration from fairy tales - the sarong on the right shows the magic mirror scene from the "Sleeping Beauty"!

Eventually, the sarong kebaya evolved to include the more colourful embroidered kebaya tops, made of cotton rubbia or swiss voile  (I must admit that I personally  would find it strange wearing one with a prawn design - see left - or featuring flamenco dancers).  Of course, these would be for special occasions.  Many older nonyas would have grown up wearing simple cottong kebaya tops and sarongs -  I recall my grandmother always wearing more muted kebayas with simple patterns and designs on them.

The sarong kebaya exhibition ends on 8 Apr 2012, for those who are interested to see these beautiful, delicate garments.  For those who've not been to the Peranakan Museum before, I highly recommend it for those who want to know more about the wonderful world of Babas and Nonyas (you can read all my previous posts on the museum here).   

As for me, I look forward to the next time I don my sarong kebaya,with a new appreciation of its past, evolution and its beauty :-)

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