Maria Wronska Friend is an anthropologist and museum curator with a particular interest in people’s relationship to their material culture. She has been associated with James Cook University since 1992, initially as a Lecturer at the Material Culture Unit in Townsville and currently as an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the College of Arts, Society and Education at Cairns Campus.
Born in Poland, in 1978 she received an MA in Anthropology from the University of Lodz and in 1987 a PhD from the Institute of Arts, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, for the thesis Javanese batik and European art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Her research is primarily object-based, using material evidence to investigate the social and historical process of contact, change and continuity. In particular she is interested in the cross-cultural transfer of objects, textile technology and aesthetics, as an outcome of colonial trade, appropriation or artistic encounters. Museum anthropology is another field of her interest, especially issues related to the interpretation of objects and the role of the curator in negotiating their meanings. She has conducted extensive research in Papua New Guinea (material culture and maritime traditions in the Aitape area), Indonesia (Javanese batik textiles) as well as in Australia, among the Hmong refugees from Laos (anthropology of dress) and Polish migrants (folk art and diasporic identity).
Batik of Java in cross-cultural perspective
Textiles of Indonesia, especially their trade and cross-cultural transfer of technique, technology and aesthetics are the focal point of my research interest. Currently I am investigating three streams:
- Javanese batik as a global inspiration: the influence of Javanese textile technique and aesthetics on the decorative arts of Europe (Art Nouveau & Art Deco), printed textiles of West Africa, Australian Aboriginal art of the central desert, textiles of West Bengal (India) and Japan.
- The impact of Indonesian textile designs in the works of European artists and designers such as Henri Matisse, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Paul Poiret and Henry van de Velde.
- Industrial imitations of Javanese batik in 19-20th century Europe (UK, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland), followed by the transfer of Javanese motifs and aesthetics to West African printed textiles.
Batik and batik-related techniques in a global perspective
Resist-dyeing techniques that use wax or other types of paste-like materials are some of the most common methods of textiles decoration, widely practiced in Asia and West Africa. In the 17th century this method was introduced to Europe where it revolutionised the technology of textile printing and transformed folk and working dress in many parts of this continent.
- The history and contemporary situation of batik and batik-like textiles in Asia (India, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, China and Japan)
- The contemporary production of hand-printed, resist-dyed textiles in Central Europe: in Germany and Austria (Blaudruck), Slovakia (modrotlač), Moravia (modrotisk) and Hungary (kékfestö).
Material culture of Papua New Guinea societies: The dynamics of change
Between 1982-1992 I conducted extensive fieldwork in the Aitape area (Sandaun Province) on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea that focused on documenting the transformation of the material culture inventory and maritime traditions. In the process, I collaborated with the Museum of Mankind in London (currently the Department of Ethnography of the British Museum), Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Museums of Ethnography in Berlin and Dresden and the National Museum of Papua New Guinea.
Two major topics were investigated:
- Inter-group trade and object exchange, as well as the impact of colonial trade on the local economy, in particular the introduction of ceramic, factory-made replicas of locally produced shell and bone goods.
- Canoes and maritime traditions on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea. One of the outcomes of this research was the construction of seven full-size watercrafts (three sea-going vessels, three lagoon/river canoes and a raft) which were deposited at the ethnographical museums in London, Dresden, Berlin and Szczecin (Poland).
Globalisation of the ethnic dress of the Hmong diaspora (refugees from Laos)
The ethic costumes of the Hmong (Miao) refugees who settled in North Queensland are important documents of embodied knowledge and personal experience. Ritual garments, festive costumes, materials and dress accessories are used in trans-national exchange and provide tangible evidence of the globalisation of the Hmong diasporic culture. While nowadays China is the major supplier of the festive costumes of the Australian Hmong people, in some cases parts of their garments are traded or obtained as gifts from relatives in Laos, Thailand, USA or France.
As a museum curator I have organised thirteen major exhibitions presenting various aspects of the cultural heritage of Indonesian and Papua New Guinea people as well as Australian migrants (the Hmong, Polish and Chinese). Among these there were four major touring exhibitions, presented at several venues across Australia:
- ‘Batik of Java: Politics and Poetics’ (with Caloundra Regional Gallery, 2010-2011)
- ‘Queensland Dragon. Chinese in the North’ (with Queensland Museum, 2009-2010)
- ‘Roses and Red Earth. Polish Folk Art in Australia’ (with Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville, 1999-2001; ‘Visions of Australia’ program)
- ‘Migrants from the Mountains. The Costume Art of the Hmong People of Southeast Asia and Australia’ (with the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, James Cook University, 1995-1997; ‘Visions of Australia’ program).
In 2013, as a member of the Costume Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), I participated in the Clothes Tell Stories project. The outcome was a web-based resource www.clothestellstories.com for which I developed a section ‘Dress and Personal Narrative’ that presents several case studies from the exhibition From Laos to Australia: the Hmong community of Cairns, organised at James Cook University.
Below is a selection of major publications. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2008). Sztuka woskiem pisana. Batik w Indonezji i w Polsce [Art drawn with wax: Batik in Indonesia and Poland]. Warszawa, Poland: Gondwana.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2015). Balinese textiles for gods and people from The Krzysztof Musial Balinese Art Collection. Balijskie Tkaniny dla Bogow i Ludzi z Kolekcji Sztuki Balijskiej Krzysztofa Musiała. Łódź, Poland: Central Museum of Textiles.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2016). Batik Jawa bagi dunia. Javanese batik to the world. Jakarta: Komunitas Lintas Budaya Indonesia.
Chapters in books
Wronska-Friend, M. (2001). Javanese batik for European artists. Experiments at the Koloniaal Laboratorium in Haarlem. In I. van Hout (Ed.), Batik – Drawn in wax. 200 years of batik art from Indonesia at the Tropenmuseum collection (pp.106–123). Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2010). Batik dress of Java. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), The Berg Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Vol. 4. South and South East Asia (pp. 441-447). Oxford: Berg Publishers.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2014). Fernöstliche faszination: Henry van de Velde und die javanische Batik. Oriental fascination: Henry van de Velde and Javanese batik. In T. Föhl & A. Neumann (Eds.), Henry van de Velde – Raumkunst und kunsthandwerk. Interior design and decorative arts – Ein werkverzeichnis in sechs bänden. A catalogue raisonné in six volumes, Vol. 2. Textilien. Textiles (pp. 369-397). Leipzig: Seemann Verlag.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2016). Translacja i tożsamość. Batik jawajski w Afryce [Translation and identity. Javanese batik in Africa]. In A. Nadolska-Styczyńska (Ed.), Snuć nić jak ppowieść. Tkaniny w kulturach świata. [Spinning a thread into a story.Textiles in world cultures], Vol. 5. Toruńskie studia o sztuce orientu [Torun studies on oriental art] (pp.191-216). Toruń, Poland: Polski Instytut Studiów nad Sztuką Świata & Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika.
Wronska-Friend, M. (in press). The early production of Javanese batik imitations in Europe (1813-1840). In R. D. Jenny (Ed.), Glarner Tuch Gespräche (Vol. 10-11), (pp. 49-58). Glarus, Switzerland: Comptoir von Daniel Jenny & Cie.
Papua New Guinea: trade and material culture transformation
Wronska-Friend, M. (1993). Kulturelle wandel an der lagune – Sissano im 20. Jahrhhundert [Cultural change at the lagoon: Sissano in the 20th century]. In M. Schindlbeck (Ed.), Von kokos zu plastik. Südseekulturen im wandel [From coconut to plastic. The transformation of Pacific cultures] (pp. 149-181). Berlin: Museum fur Völkerkunde.
Wronska-Friend, M. (1998). Wyprawa po sago – tradycje wymiany handlowej na północnym wybrzeżu Nowej Gwinei’ [Sago expeditions: trade exchange on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea]. In B. Kopydłowska-Kaczorowska & F. M. Rosiński (Eds.), Ludy i kultury Australii i Oceanii [People and cultures of Australia and Oceania] (pp. 75-80). Wrocław, Poland: Katedra Etnologii Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2015). From shells to ceramic: Colonial replicas of indigenous valuables. Journal of Museum Ethnography, 28, 50-69.
Costume of the Hmong people
Wronska-Friend, M. (2004). Globalised threads: Costumes of the Hmong community in north Queensland. In N. Tapp & G. Y. Lee (Eds.), The Hmong of Australia: Culture and diaspora (pp. 97-122). Canberra: Pandanus Books.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2010). Miao/Hmong in Australia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), South Asia and Southeast Asia (pp. 459-465). Berg Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion, 4. Oxford: Berg.
Wronska-Friend, M. (2013). Dress and personal narrative. In Clothes tell stories: Working with costume in museums. Online resource hosted by the International Committee for Costume, International Council of Museums (ICOM).
Wronska-Friend, M. (2012). Why haven’t we been taught all that at school? Crosscultural community projects in North Queensland, Australia. The Museum Journal, 55(1), 3-20. doi: 10.1111/j.2151-6952.2011.00117.x
Wronska-Friend, M. (2015). Przedmiot szczególnej troski: Obiekty sacrum w muzeum [Subject of special concern: Sacral objects in museum work] (pp. 55-78). ZWAM (Zbiór Wiadomości do Antropologii Muzealnej), 2 (online-journal of the Polish Ethnological Society).
Polish Migrants in Australia
Wronska-Friend, M. (Ed.). (2000). Roses and red earth. Polish folk art in Australia, Melbourne: Macmillan.
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