Pulau Banda and the narrative of textiles by Velasco Velasco

My name is Marta Velasco Velasco, one Velasco is from Colombia and the other from Spain.

Growing between two different cultures that at the same time have a lot in common awoke my curiosity for colonial history. It fascinates me how different cultures influence each other and how the sharing of material traditions enrich one to the other. I think history shapes our present and can inspire new stories.

Two years ago talking with my brother about African Wax and its Dutch-Indonesian origins, he told me about the history of nutmeg. The spice was once worth its weight in gold and the islands where it was originally Pulau Banda, allured all European empires. Its high value brought the Dutch to colonize Indonesia and the story continues… It caught me straight away and I felt the need to share it with everyone as it encapsulates so many key aspects of globalization, value, and post-colonialism.

I am driven by narrative, materiality, and making.

I use textiles, photography and set design to share stories of colonialism and their aftermath. Colonial history is usually very difficult and dark but as well sometimes full of beauty. It is about cultural and material exchange, routes of exploitation but at the same time about the creation of knowledge. My goal is to awaken curiosity about colonial history and spark debate about its representations. As well, through material choices, I hope to raise questions about material value and sustainability. I believe in the potential of design and making to tell engaging stories that connect with people.

Pulau Banda is inspired by the story of nutmeg, the spice was once considered the “Holy Grail of Spices”, it was a symbol of luxury and prestige. Until the 19th-century, the world’s only source of nutmeg was the Banda Islands — a tiny archipelago in today’s Indonesia— imagined by Europeans as a luxuriant tropical Eden.

In the 17th-century the Dutch controlled all the islands except one, Run, an islet claimed by the English. In their urge to keep the nutmeg monopoly, the Dutch agreed to cede Manhattan (back then called New Amsterdam) to the English in return for Run. After this hype, the spice started losing its value and Banda got forgotten.

‘Pulau Banda’ is a collection of textiles, wall hangs and an artist book inspired by this story and influenced by contemporary Indonesia. It uses the narrative potential of textiles, long forgotten by most of the western people but beautifully preserved in every day of African and Asian cultures.

The work integrates silk, bamboo, and recycled plastic to comment on changes of material value; while transporting us to the islands through colour, patterns and materiality. The fabrics are hand dyed and hand screen printed with innovative processes developed while doing my MA at the Royal College of Art in London. The recycled plastic pieces are laser cut, digitally printed and embellished with foils.

The ‘Pulau Banda’ book amalgamates images from the initial archival research, photography from my own trip to the Spice Islands and a vision of a Bandarian bringing the fabrics to live. It plays with fact, fiction and storytelling to represent the archipelago’s rich world and complex history.

I think that in the screen era where we live over saturated with decontextualized images, we crave engaging stories that can catch us for longer than a blink. As well there is the need to touch those stories and feel the materials and textures they are made of, not just the colours and shapes.

Interview with Marta Velasco Velasco.

Trends: Experienced Narratives.