Chiang Mai’s Sbun-Nga Textile Museum is a labour of love for one man, who has privately funded the museum to preserve the spectacular textiles of Thailand’s heritage so the next generation can enjoy it
Featured in the Bangkok Post today, Sbun-Nga Textile Museum has a beautiful looking collection of Thai textiles and costumes which even someone like me, who knows nothing about it, can appreciate. In the newspaper they had some great large photos of some of the collection (which sadly are minaturised on the web version of the page) which is what caught my eye – and it’s great to read of people like Akadet Nakkabunlung who put their own money and effort into preserving these amazing cloth creations.
The Textile Museum has a website at www.sbun-nga.com where you can see some more pictures of the collection – here’s the full Bangkok Post article, as it disappears behind their firewall after 24 hours:
The past brought to life
Akadet Nakkabunlung’s textile museum is a mission of love for what’s quickly being lost
Story by KRITTIYA WONGTAVAVIMARN Photos by DANAYA CHULPHUTHIPHONG
‘Passion” is the operative word for Akadet Nakkabunlung’s textile museum.
It is sheer passion that has driven Akadet to collect ages-old traditional textiles from different regions in Southeast Asia for more than two decades. With more than 10,000 antique textiles under his care, it is also passion that has made him dig deep in his pocket to set up a private museum.
It has been three years since the Sbun-Nga Textile Museum in Chiang Mai, the largest of its kind in the country, opened to the public. Although the museum has not attracted lots of tour buses and private cars, Akadet’s passion to raise public appreciation for traditional textiles explains why he won’t quit.
“I’ve always dreamed of a place where people could admire these textiles, in a museum, in an accessible, educational environment,” said the 51-year-old textile expert, who is also a cultural organiser and consultant.
Akadet Nakkabunlung set up a private textile museum to pursue his long-cherished ambition to share rare textiles with others.
“I’m crazy about textiles and I believe that the museum can introduce others to the same level of sensory satisfaction,” he added.
Comprising five exhibition sections _ Tai Lue, Tai Lao, Tai Kaun, Tai Yai and Tai Yuan _ the 1,000m2 teakwood Sbun-Nga Textile Museum is located at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre in Chiang Mai.
Focusing on a wide range of rare textiles of members of the royal family as well as local people dating back 80 to 200 years, the collection at the museum encompasses more than 1,000 pieces of ancient regional Thai textiles of the northern part of Thailand, as well as Laos, Vietnam, Burma and China.
The collection has been assembled and displayed with the passion and obsession of a dedicated collector.
Akadet started collecting textiles when he did historical research on Thai traditional dresses while organising the “Lanna Thai Heritage” fashion show in 1982. Several trips to the homes of high-profile textile collectors boosted his interest in making his own collection of textiles and became the inspiration for him to study the history of the authenticity of old aesthetic pieces.
Akadet has tried to bring to life the lifestyle of textile owners, not only the vibrant textiles and remarkable royal court costumes, but also how beautiful the people would have looked dressed in the ages-old styles. Light and sound systems are used to enliven the scene. There are a large number of photographs and dressmaker’s mannequins throughout the exhibit showing the textiles being worn, including a number of ornaments and ordinary items of living to set the textiles in context.
The first section, the Tai Lue room, showcases a variety of brightly-coloured textiles of the Tai Lue people, who migrated from Xishuangbanna, an ethnic Tai town in southern China. The distinctive style of the Tai Lue textiles is a combination of different weaving techniques. For the traditional tube skirt, or pha sin, the tapestry weaving technique has become very well-known, particularly in the “flowing water” or lai nam lai design, signifying the Tai Lue people’s resettlement along the Mekong River.
The rare Tai Lao dresses from Luang Prabang and Vientiane are woven with a mix of original and European and Chinese techniques. The textiles of the Tai Lao group use a technique better known by the Indonesian word ikat. or mudmee in Thai. These silk fabrics display much Khmer influence, both in their design and weaving techniques.
The famous and rare textiles of Tai Kaun origin were royal wedding dresses. The bride’s royal tube skirt is made from precious materials woven in horizontal stripes, bordered with Chinese silk embroidery on a green hem with an exquisite lotus design. The groom wears a long silk gown decorated with gold materials.
The Tai Yai section features the textiles of the Tai Yai, Mon and Burmese ethnic groups combined to display their influences on each other from their combined cultures and weaving techniques, including the use of Chinese and Indian fabrics. The room is an imitation of the Lion Throne of the Mandalay Dynasty, with the coronation dress of the Tai Yai crown prince wonderfully decorated with gemstones, coloured glass and precious metals. The Mandalay princess wears a silk Burmese-style tube skirt called luntaya acheik.
One of the highlights of the textile collection is a display of the well-known Tai Yuan textiles from the court of Princess Dara Rasmi of Chiang Mai. The princess was the one who introduced the European style of sleeves with rich embroideries of gold on the hem and blouses with Javanese necklines, worn with a silk Burmese-style luntaya acheik tube skirt as the official dress in Chiang Mai.
Akadet developed his expertise in textiles through documenting the provenance of the textiles, and seeking out textiles directly from antique dealers and from homes where they were made.
The museum also showcases a series of photos of Chiang Mai from the last century that he has collected along with the traditional textiles, featuring the lifestyle and landscape of the bygone Lanna kingdom, such as the Chiang Mai City Gate in 1899, Warorot Market in 1937 and even how convicted prisoners were whipped in the past.
“Many of us don’t really know or even care about our own past. So I want to make it easy for people to learn about the legacy of our heritage with their own eyes. I want to provide them with opportunities to experience the traditions, skills and creative processes that make the textile arts so fascinating.
“Even five-year-old kids can differentiate local dresses from royal court costumes and appreciate the exotic beauty of these traditional textiles,” he said, adding that he has visited many textile museums around the world and applied the knowledge gained during those visits to the establishment of his museum, but in a Thai context.
Due to the collection’s rarity and cultural significance, it is important that these frail treasures be properly conserved. Due to a limited budget for display space and maintenance, however, a number of valuable textiles are simply hung over bamboo poles, leaving them exposed to dust, heat and humidity. But proper display and conservation are simply too costly, admitted Akadet.
“I just can’t afford to separate pieces with non-acid paper or air-condition them all day long,” explained Akadet, who has already spent over 50 million baht on the collection and 10 million baht on the museum.
“I have tried my best and this is what I can do to show gratitude to the owners of the textiles who allow me to take care of and share their treasures with the public.”
Though Thai fashion has come of age with trendy boutiques and fashion shows displaying a dazzling array of stylish clothes in glittering, edgy designs, the fate of the ancient textile heritage is less than certain. Akadet hopes, however, that his museum can help foster public awareness and understanding of traditional Thai cultures through hands-on activities in the museum, and through partnerships and interaction with local, national and international communities to bring these treasures to the attention of the world.
He also wants the museum to become a place where individuals or textile collectors can come together to share their experiences and transform the museum into an “experimental laboratory” for textiles.
“The rich textile legacy of Thailand is in the danger of dying out,” he said, worried. “Before we promote modern or contemporary fashion designs, we should first know well our own textile and fashion history, to know the everyday home life of local families in the past, to see how we got to where we are today.”
His passion now, he said, is to help the younger generations discover the legacy of their cultural heritage. “We should resuscitate our ancient textile arts while we still can.”
Sbun-Nga Textile Museum is located at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre on Wualai Road, Chiang Mai. The museum is open daily except Wednesdays from 10:30am to 6:30pm. For more information, call 05-321-5026/7 or 01-883-6713, or visit www.sbun-nga.com.