Nuri Auger had her first experience making a kebaya as a 16-year-old bridesmaid, when she was trained by family members in their traditional village using the same skills they learned from their ancestors. Now residing in Baltimore, Auger is a master kebaya maker who maintains an abiding passion for this elegant, quintessentially Indonesian textile tradition.
The kebaya, a long piece of fabric wrapped around the waist to form a skirt and a bustier, is an integral part of Indonesian culture. It symbolizes national history as well as cultural identity. Previously viewed as a symbol of Indonesian struggle, especially women’s struggle and their fight for educational rights, today the kebaya is seen as a symbol of female empowerment and is meant to educate others. Focusing on these values, Auger fights against Indonesian stereotypes and negative views of the culture’s religion and politics. She explains that she aims “to show the beauty in making a kebaya and tell the cultural stories that truly share the society for an Indonesian woman. It has become my duty to show my passion and love to pass on this heritage to the next generation. Indonesia is rich in culture and cuisine and art. The kebaya shows this truth.”
As an adult, Auger supplemented what she learned at the feet of family members by training professionally, in 1991, with the Futura Fashion School in Jakarta, Indonesia. The school was run by 10 renowned high-fashion Indonesian designers and teachers who were experts in Indonesian fine textile arts. Upon graduation, Auger turned her focus to making traditional and modern Indonesian bridal clothing that mixed kebaya design and construction methods.
A recipient of a 2019-20 Folklife Apprenticeship Award from the Maryland State Arts Council, Auger has trained others in her methods for over 40 years. She has been recognized in Massachusetts as well, where she held a fashion event showcasing a collection of Indonesian traditional kebayas. Auger is the founder and president of Indonesian Three Magnolias, a nonprofit organization focused on education for women and children in Indonesia. She also regularly volunteers with the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C.