Exhibition: The Indian Sari – Next to the Skin, Close to the Heart

Indiana Uni Arts Museum - Indian Sari

Exhibition dates: 25 September – 20 December 2015

This stunning exhibition of twenty-five saris on loan from Bloomington resident Prema Popkin shows a sample of the many types of saris produced for and worn by women from different parts of India. Chosen for their various techniques, patterns, materials and colours, the saris not only are beautiful, but they also provide insights into India’s great diversity of culture, caste and climate.

The sari consists of one continuous piece of fabric measuring from five to nine yards long and two to four yards wide. It is divided into three areas of design: the end piece or pallu, which is often elaborately decorated; the other three borders of the fabric; and the body or field. Saris are worn in a myriad of ways (seventy by some counts), depending on region, class and caste. The fabric is wrapped around the body, pleated in the front, and secured by tucking it into a petticoat. The pallu can be draped in a variety of ways – over the shoulder and down the back, over the shoulder and down the front, draped over the head, and even wrapped between the legs forming pants. A short blouse, or choli, is worn to cover the breasts, leaving the midriff bare.

Saris can be made of domesticated silk, cotton, wild silk and wool. They can be decorated with block printing, resist dyeing or embroidery, and they are woven using various techniques including brocade. Although today many saris are factory woven, traditionally they are made by hand on a variety of looms.

The motifs found on an Indian sari comprise a visual language that can identify caste, class, stage of life and region. Motifs may also serve to honour or appease the gods or to protect the wearer from adversity. The use of certain patterns may indicate the community to which a girl belongs. Traditionally, different colours convey different meanings. For example, red is frequently used for a bride or recently married girl and a yellow background may indicate that a woman is a new mother, while white saris are most often worn by widows.

The exhibition is curated by Judy Stubbs, the Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art, and is funded by the Thomas T. Solley Endowed Fund for the Curator of Asian Art and the Indiana University Art Museum’s Arc Fund.

For more information, visit the website of the Indiana University Arts Museum, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.

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