Magdalena Meak (Mama Magdalena)

Born 1964 in Uma Lia Na`in (Kateri Village), West Timor, Indonesia
Lives and works in Uma Lia Na`in (Kateri Village), West Timor, Indonesia

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Tais mane (Men’s ceremonial cloth) 2022
ikat textile
Courtesy the artist

In 1985, inspired by the stories of elders in her community, Timorese artist Magdalena Meak began weaving fighter planes into her tais cloths. First colonised by the Portuguese before Dutch regiments split the nation in two, Timor was occupied by the Japanese between 1942 and 1945. Meak began by copying the ro (plane) motif from older textiles; however, upon seeing historical photos, she tweaked the motif to reflect more accurate proportions, making her designs unique across Timor. Meak’s signature ro cloths, which take two months to complete, weave together handspun, naturally dyed threads.

For Timorese women, the passing down of tais craft is an example of fulidai-dai, a social concept that promotes openness and collaboration within Timor. Tais clothmaking not only supports Timor families but is a passage through which cultural wisdom can be shared, untangled and rewoven. Often created using the colours of the Timor-Leste flag (red for sacrifice, black for triumph, yellow for trauma and white for the light of peace), Meak’s cloths symbolise centuries of war and violence.

Read more about the 24th Biennale of Sydney, Ten Thousand Suns, by purchasing the catalogue here.