Article: Iwatate Folk Museum

Suzani. © Keisuke Fukamizu

This article, with text by Kosuke Ide and photos by Keisuke Fukamizu, looks at the Iwatate Folk Museum in Tokyo. The museum houses the collection of Hiroko Iwatate which consists of over eight thousand textiles from many different areas of Asia. Having studied dyeing techniques under two prominent artisans Hiroko then embarked on her travels, spending time in Peru, Mexico and Guatamala. However it was her first visit to India in 1970 that really seems to have sparked her imagination and set her off on a lifetime of collecting. Indeed half of the eight thousand pieces in the collection are from India.

This article showcases some wonderful textiles from an exhibition entitled Suzani Magnificent Embroidery (although most of the images are not of suzanis), which was held in 2015.

Labijar kilim. © Ryohei Sasatani.

The current exhibition is on Kilims – Daily Rugs from Afghanistan, and ends on 16 March 2019. Again the title of the exhibition is slightly misleading as you will see if you click through some of the images of the pieces featured in it. These include salt bags, tent bands, bed ornaments and coats.

Pashtoon child’s coat. © Ryohei Sasatani.

 

*****************************************


 

Advertisements

Article: Iranian nomads, and ORTS event in London tonight

A nomadic family during their migration. © Newsha Tavakolian

Why Iran’s nomads are fading away, with text by Thomas Erdbrink and wonderful photographs by Newsha Tavakolian, is a very thought-provoking article on the difficulties faced by Iranian nomads.

There are over a million nomads in Iran, and for many years they have followed a traditional lifestyle which involved moving their animals along ancient routes to cool pastures in the Zagreb mountains every spring. Now many transport their belongings on trucks instead of horseback. The number of black tents being set up in the pastures is dwindling year on year as young people sell off their flocks and move to the towns. One of the main reasons for this change seems to be the desire for education. As one woman put it “I won’t let my daughters marry a nomad,” she said. “Our lifestyle is horrible. I want them to live in a city and study.” Do click through the slideshow near the beginning of the article for extra images and information.

Reading this brings to mind the famous film Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life made about the Bakhtiari migration in 1925. The numbers of people involved in that migration in contrast to the situation today is stark. Fifty thousand people, led by Haidar Khan, made this trek which lasted for 48 days and involved crossing an icy river on inflated goat skins. Seeing them climb the snowy mountains – in one case with a man carrying a donkey on his back – makes you realise just how desperate these people were to reach the life-sustaining grass on the other side. This really is a truly remarkable film, a ten-minute excerpt of which can be viewed here and is highly recommended.

Last year the Metropolitan Museum in New York held an exhibition entitled Portable Storage: Tribal Weavings from the Collection of William and Inger Ginsberg, which I blogged about here.

Spindle bag. Gift of Inger G. and William B. Ginsberg, 2015. © Metropolitan Museum.

More information on the various tribes, as well as their weavings can be found on the website of the Metropolitan Museum here.

Khamseh bird rug. © Paul R Benjamin

Tonight – Wednesday 20 February 2019 Professor Paul R Benjamin is giving a talk on South Persian Rugs, Bags and Saddle Covers to the Oriental Rug and Textile Society of Great Britain (ORTS). Professor Benjamin’s subjects  will include Qashqa’i Shekarlu rugs and Khamseh saddle covers . This talk in Piccadilly, London, is also open to non-members. Click here for further details.

***************************************************************


 

Article: Kisar Textiles

OATG members David and Sue Richardson are passionate about Indonesian textiles and recently have been researching the weavings of the small island of Kisar in the Lesser Sundas, to the east of Bali. As part of this research, last year they corresponded with Sonja Mohr, the curator for Insular Southeast Asia at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World in Köln, about the museum’s collection of Kisar textiles. These were collected by Heinrich Kühn in 1888, Professor Alexander W. Pflüger in 1900 and Wilhelm Müller-Wismar in 1914. Sonja very kindly invited them to Köln to examine these textiles for themselves. The information gained during that visit, along with field research, has resulted in the publication of the final page on Kisar textiles on their website Asian Textile Studies. Below is their report of their trip to the museum.

Most of the visitors heading to Köln in December are there to see the Christmas markets, but we had a different objective in mind – textiles – and not just any old textiles, but textiles with excellent provenance collected on Kisar in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Textile heaven! A fantastic selection of Kisar textiles ready for us to examine.

We had corresponded with Sonja Mohr for several months and she and her colleague, Senior Conservationist Petra Czerwinske-Eger, had gone to great lengths to prepare for our visit. Christian Andert, the chief storekeeper, had brought the Kisar textiles from the main storage area to one of the laboratories so that we could all examine them in detail. All of the information they held on each piece had been printed out, along with questions it was hoped we might be able to answer together.

We started by looking at the sarongs, which had been prepared for us. These were more varied than expected, with some, such as the one below, having very little ikat but lovely rich deep colours.

A simple Oirata lau which might date to the late nineteenth century.

We then looked at the ceremonial sarongs, from both the Oirata and Meher communities and discovered that one Oirata tubeskirt had been mislabelled as Meher.

An Oirata mauwesi lau which had been mislabelled as a Meher homnon.

We then moved onto examining the male loincloths and it was again interesting to first see some very simple examples.

Sonja and David looking at a man’s simple loincloth.

The ceremonial loincloths collected in 1914 were just stunning – woven from fine hand-spun cotton with narrow bands of ikat and end sections of continuous supplementary weft.

A fantastic niala or irä from Oirata, which led to much discussion.

One of the unexpected highlights for us was the collection of waistbands, which really were little gems.

Analysing waistbands collected by Müller-Wismar in 1914.

We discovered silk threads had been used in some narrow warp stripes and the twinned end band of one of these.

Sue and Sonja discussing more waistbands collected by Müller-Wismar.

After two lengthy sessions we left the museum with a huge sense of satisfaction with our goal achieved, and looking forward to working together with Sonja, Petra and the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum – Cultures of the World in the future.

If you would like to read more about these textiles, along with many detailed photographs, please visit the Kisar page of our Asian Textile Studies website.

 

***************************************************

 


 

Article: Recreating Ancient Brocade to Preserve History

Photo of the loom and cloth from the Shanghai Daily

In 1995 a small (18.5cm by 12.5cm) piece of brocade was excavated from a tomb in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region. Woven in red, yellow, blue, white and green silk the motifs on it included the phoenix and the tiger as well as various heavenly bodies. This textile fragment was produced 2000 years ago. The sophistication of it doesn’t surprise me, having already seen Chinese textiles of a similar age as part of the Living in Silk exhibition at Nottingham Castle when they were exhibited in the UK for the first time in 2012.

In this Shanghai Daily article the author, Shi Jia, explains  some of the symbolism found on this textile and the lengths that Zhao Feng, the director of the China National Silk Museum, and his team went to in order to reproduce it. First they had to build a loom with which to weave the cloth. They decided to reproduce a hook-shaft pattern loom which had been found in a Han Dynasty tomb. The cloth took over a year to weave. It has an astounding 10,000 warps and was woven on 86 shafts – so much room for error! The description of how they got around the need for dozens of treadles fascinated me.

According to Zhao Feng the next goal is to reproduce the natural dyes that were used to colour the original fabric so that it can once again be seen as it would have so many years ago.

The full article can be read here

********************************************************

Article: Bagru Textiles – Woodblock Printing near Jaipur, India

This article, written for the KINDCRAFT by Justin Lancy, looks at the tradition of woodblock printing in one particular community in Rajasthan.

The Chhipa clan have lived in Bagru for 400 years and Viju Chhipa, the founder of Bagru Textiles, is a fifth-generation dyer and printer. Lancy explains how the designs on each cloth might use 4 or 5 different woodblocks, which are carved from a variety of local trees including teak and rosewood. In this community the designs are traditionally printed onto a cream background, or sometimes the cloth is dyed blue or red. Another type of printing is done using mud-resist. The blocks are dipped into the dye and the colour applied very carefully onto the cloth by hand – a laborious task requiring a good eye for detail.

This tradition is now threatened as it requires a lot of water and the water table in the region has dropped in recent years.

The full article can be read on the KINDCRAFT website here. The majority of the beautiful images, taken by Justin and Lauren K Lancy, can be enlarged by clicking on them.

******************************

Article: Ainu Culture – Garments and Embroideries of the Ainu People

Image by Keisuke Fukamizu

This article, with text by Kosuke Ide and fantastic photographs by Keisuke Fukamizu, examines the clothing of the Ainu people of Hokkaido island, Japan. Ide explains that hundreds of years ago these were made from the animal skins – there was a reference to them wearing “bird skin” as late as the eighteenth century. Over time they began to use fibres obtained from the inner bark of elm and linden trees to weave their textiles.  The cloth woven from these fibres was known as attush, and was sewn into garments primarily used as work clothing. These garments were decorated with patterns embroidered in cotton. Later, as cotton became cheaper and more accessible, they began to use it for their clothing rather than the attush. However the art of making attush has not died out completely. It is still practised by Rumiko Fujitani, using a traditional backstrap loom.

Ide also interviewed Nobuko Tsuda, who has conducted research on traditional Ainu garment culture and for the past 20 years has served as a curator at the Hokkaido Ainu Centre in Sapporo. I was particularly struck by her appreciation of what she refers tom as the “natural imperfections” of Ainu embroidery done in the traditional way, as opposed to the “perfection” which can be achieved using more modern methods.

The full article, which really does have some wonderful images, can be accessed on the visvim website here. Please note that this does take quite a while to load – presumably because of the quality of the images.

Textiles of Japan by Thomas Murray has recently been published by Prestel and contains over 100 pages on Ainu textiles. This book is already available in Europe and will go on sale in the US from 29 January 2019.

**************************

 

Article: Minority Textiles – Kam Women Artisans

This article by Marie Anna Lee highlights the textile traditions of the Kam people from Dimen village in Guizhou province, China. They are called the Dong by the majority Han Chinese. These traditions are kept alive by a group of elderly women, known as za.

Lee explains how the za used to grow and spin their own cotton, but now use machine-made thread. They make these threads stronger through a process of treating them with an alkali solution, beating them with a flat paddle, starching in warm rice water and then drying them.

Locally grown indigo is turned into a paste which is used to dye the cloth woven from these threads time after time until it is almost black. The cloth is then dyed seven times in a red dyestuff made from dyeing yam, Rhododendron leaves and Chinese sumac. Lee goes on to describe how the cloth is stiffened and then beaten with a wooden mallet until its surface is shiny.

This dark indigo fabric really sets off the colourful belts, hand-embroidered with satin stitch which are another speciality here. Sadly many young women do not want to spend time mastering satin stitch and so use cross-stitch instead. The elderly za can no longer embroider due to their failing eyesight and so now often buy machine-made embroidery. As in so many places in the world traditions are fading with the passing of the generations.

To read the full article which describes the dyeing and other textile processes visit the  Asian Art  website.

Marie Anna Lee is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of the Pacific in California, USA. Her recently published book, Kam Women Artisans of China: Dawn of the Butterflies, follows five of these remarkable women as they reveal their unique heritage through practical demonstrations. This book was reviewed by OATG member Pamela Cross in the Summer 2018 edition (number 70) of Asian Textiles.

 

************************************************

 

Article: Kelaghayis of Azerbaijan

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

The kelaghayi (kelagayi/kalaghayi) is a traditional silk scarf made in Azerbaijan. In 2014 this was added  to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This video was made by Asif Abramov and Rena Ibrahimbeyova to support the process of adding kelaghayi to this list.

These fine silk headcovers have been produced in Azerbaijan for generations. In 1862 Nasir Abdulaziz from Basgal showed his kelaghayis at the International Exhibition in London, gaining a silver medal for his work. In the mid-nineteenth century the Russian painter Grigory Grigoryevich Gagarin depicted a woman from Shamakhi (probably a musician or dancer) wearing a kelaghayi over a small cap, in the local style.

“Woman of Shamakhi” by Grigory Grigoryevich Gagarin

The silk scarf provided warmth in the cold weather, and protected the wearer from the heat in hot weather. It was produced in a variety of colours. Many believe that older women tended to wear darker colours, while younger women preferred lighter ones. Red was associated with weddings, and black with mourning – with scarves sometimes being used to cover the deceased too. It was tied in a variety of different ways, depending on the region. There were many beliefs associated with the production of these scarves – people should not enter the silkworm-incubation premises wearing gold or silver jewellery or a wristwatch, the scarves should never be folded with the pattern on the outside etc, etc.

Although these scarves used to be made throughout Azerbaijan, production is now centred on Sheki and Basgal. Basgal is also the home of the Kelagayi museum, the walls of which are decorated with some of the traditional motifs used on the scarves.

 Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

The scarf shown below was bought by the author in Khiva, Uzbekistan, from an Azerbaijani shop owner. It was made in the Sheki Ipek Kombinat named after Lenin, in Sheki. At one time this was one of the largest silk-weaving centres in the Soviet Union, employing 7,000 people at its peak. The factory closed after the collapse of the USSR in 1995. The twin towns of Sheki and Shamakhi have been silk-weaving centres since medieval times and in the early twentieth century there were 127 silk mills in the Sheki region, employing 3,500 people. The seller told me that scarves such as mine date to the 1970s, but I haven’t been able to verify that.

The patterns on the kelaghayi are produced using a resist technique. They are applied using stamps which were traditionally carved from pear or walnut wood, but were often also made of metal.

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

These stamps are dipped in a mixture of paraffin, resin and solid oil, before being carefully applied to the surface of the silk cloth. Various natural dyes are used to colour the cloths, before the wax is removed with hot water.

Photo copyright of Christine Martens and reproduced with her kind permission.

Obviously the workload and time needed to produce such scarves is increased if several different colours are used. Kelaghayi with six or seven colours were perceived as the most valuable and desirable and are still being produced in Basgal today. Versions of traditional kelaghayi produced in China using synthetic fabric are now entering the market, providing stiff competition for the workshops who produce silk scarves in the time-honoured way.

Similar scarves seem to have been produced in other areas too. The author bought this one in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2001. It had been made in a factory in Chardzhou in the east of the country. The factory had closed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many thanks to Christine Martens for allowing me to reproduce some of the photos she took in Basgal following the “Intersections in felt” Symposium in October 2018.

Some fabulous images, along with an interview with a workshop-owner which really gives a sense of the working conditions, can be seen in an article by Samra Sadraddinli on the Chai Khana website here.

More background information for this article comes from this piece by Emil Eyyabov for the Azerbaijan State News Agency, this article  by Valentina Reznikova for Region Plus, and finally this article by Afat Rustamayova and Ruslan Huseynov on irs-az.com.

*************************************

Article: Rediscovering a rare Japanese painting by Utamaro

 

Tim Clark, Head of the Japanese section in the Department of Asia, British Museum, recounts the discovery of a previously unknown painting by Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro. In this article he takes a closer look at this rare artwork, recounts how he examined its authenticity, and how it found its way into the Museum’s collection.

Courtesans (high ranked sex workers) were expected to provide glamorous and cultivated company, as well as sexual services, to those wealthy clients who could afford the extravagant expense. In reality though, their lives could be harsh. In Utamaro’s art this exploitation was only rarely alluded to, although it was significant at the time that he represented it at all.

To read the full article visit the website of the British Museum

Article: Culture of Jiasha, Chinese Buddhist Robes

 

Intertwined with the history of Buddhism in China, which dates back to the first century BC and has shaped the country’s culture, politics and art, jiasha, the robes worn by Buddhist monks, are an integral part of China’s material culture. Despite their significance, jiasha have been largely overlooked by historians, partly because so few examples exist today.

Jiasha are patchwork-like robes made by stitching smaller pieces of cloth together before applying decoration. The draped garment design is emblematic of monastic robes worn in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and elsewhere in Asia. Rectangular in shape with an angled top edge, jiasha are traditionally worn draped over the left shoulder, with the addition of a single hook to fasten the robe around the torso.

Custom dictated that a jiasha was presented to monks in China on the occasion of their ordination. As such, the textile was made to be a material manifestation of Buddhist teachings and ideology. This begins with the construction of the garment. Jiasha are made by piecing together sections of cloth donated from members of the community in a patchwork-style design. Unlike patchwork, the arrangement of panels is very specific, influenced by the Buddhist mandala motif, with a core centre and flowing symmetry. The modest cut of the jiasha and pieced-together appearance references the rags worn by the Buddha during his ascetic period.

To read the full article by Emily Lush and Alan Kennedy visit the website of The Textile Atlas