Exhibition: Dressed to Impress – Netsuke and Japanese Men’s Fashion

Exhibition dates: 4 November 2017 – 22 April 2018

This exhibition at the Museum of East Asian Art (MEAA) in Bath, held in partnership with the British Museum, explores the intricate accessories worn by Japanese men during the Edo period (16151868). Netsuke are a form of miniature Japanese sculpture that were primarily functional, but that evolved into an important art form.

The exhibition features a selection of netsuke, chosen from over 2,300 in the British Museum’s collection, with more pieces added from MEAA’s collection to show the range and beauty of these objects and their excellent craftsmanship. Netsuke come in a variety of forms and materials such as wood, ivory and porcelain. The beauty of these objects is in their individuality, and is reflected in the variety of the netsuke on show: a goldfish, a Chinese boy holding a lion mask and a drum and fox’s mask (pictured above). Also on display will be a number of inro (cases for holding small objects), a sword and smoking accessories.

The exhibition places the netsuke and other objects in context with a sword and bespoke male kimono to demonstrate how they were worn as a complete outfit in the eighteenth century.

For more information, visit the website of the Museum of East Asian Art, Bath, UK.

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Exhibition: How to Make the Universe Right – The Art of Priests and Shamans from Vietnam and Southern China

Exhibition dates: 30 July 2017 – 7 January 2018

‘How to Make the Universe Right’ presents a large selection of rare religious scrolls, ceremonial clothing and ritual objects of the Yao, Tày, Sán Dìu, Cao Lan, Sán Chay, Nùng and other populations of northern Vietnam and southern China. Each group has their own traditions of educating and initiating priests and shamans, who serve as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual worlds and between the community and deities, in order to make the universe right through healing, balancing the forces of nature, and communicating with ancestors. The Yao’s practices are most prominently associated with Daoism, a religious and philosophical tradition of Chinese origin, while for the other peoples, Daoist beliefs are combined with aspects of Buddhism, Tantrism and Confucianism.

The works of art in the exhibition, most of which date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, provide the material foundation for the regional manifestations of religious practices. Examples in the exhibition include vibrantly coloured and intricately embroidered ritual robes and headdresses worn by priests, and a spectacular set of eighteen scrolls of elaborately painted deities, made for those engaged in the higher levels of initiation. The exhibition also features a display evoking the shrines constructed for ceremonies, a film on contemporary religious practices in the region, and a selection of scrolls highlighting their recent conservation and what this has revealed.

All of the works on view are part of the Barry and Jill Kitnick Collection generously donated by the Kitnicks to the Fowler Museum at UCLA in 2015.

For more information, visit the website of the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

Exhibition: Piña-Seda – Pineapple and Silk Cloth from the Tropics

Exhibition dates: 24 October – 22 November 2017

Learn the history behind the famous cloth used for the Philippine national dress, and the art of its intricate and delicate designs.

The Philippine Embassy in London is currently showing a month-long textile exhibition, entitled PIŇA-SEDA (Pineapple and Silk Cloth from the Tropics), a Hibla ang Lahing Filipino Travelling Exhibition, featuring the Kalibo Aklan Piňa-Seda Weavers and the Lumban, Laguna Piňa-Seda Embroiderers.

This is the first international exhibition developed by the National Museum of the Philippines to promote traditional fabrics from the Philippines. It comprises 12 handmade pineapple and silk textiles, an Aklan foot loom, 8 embroidery samplers, 2 herbarium specimens and 50 associated weaving implements and materials brought from the Philippines. Complementing them are illustrations and texts to convey the uniqueness and intricacy of these revered heritage material used in formal wear.

The exhibition is being held in the exhibition halls of the Philippine Embassy, 10 Suffolk Street, London, SW1Y 4HG.

For more information, contact events@philemb.co.uk or write to Ms. Tess Albano at the Philippine Embassy, mtjalbano@philemb.co.uk

Exhibition: Boro – Threads of Life

Exhibition dates: 5 October – 5 November 2017, Wednesday to Sunday, 3–7pm

In Paris this month is an exhibition on the Japanese textile tradition of boro (some of you may have seen this exhibition at Somerset House in 2014). Translated as ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for textiles – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when necessity required, and had to make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families, from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, repaired and recycled all kinds of textiles, from fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down, and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.

This cultural practice is now long vanished. Unused boro textiles tend to be put aside, thrown away or sometimes even destroyed by a society embarrassed by its past. As a result, they are now a rare find. This is a stunning collection of unique Japanese patched indigo textiles, which appear to transcend their origins to become exquisite objects of abstract art.

For more information, visit the website of La Frontiera Gallery, Paris.

Exhibition: A Tale of Two Persian Carpets (One by One) – The Ardabil and Coronation Carpets

Exhibition dates: 17 September 2017 – 8 July 2018

Dating to the first half of the sixteenth century, LACMA’s two spectacular Persian carpets, both the gift of J. Paul Getty, have only rarely been exhibited due in part to their size and sensitivity to light. Now, these large and sumptuous carpets will be shown sequentially, affording visitors the opportunity to see two of the world’s most renowned Persian carpets and to learn of their fascinating history before and after they left Iran. The Ardabil carpet will be on view from 17 September 2017 – 19 February 2018, and the Coronation carpet will be exhibited from 24 February – 8 July 2018.

The large number of carpets surviving from sixteenth-century Iran compared to earlier periods reflects not only a high level of carpet production but also perhaps a change in the nature of their manufacture. During this period, carpet weaving evolved from a rural, nomadic craft to a national industry and an internationally acclaimed art form, as the first shahs of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1732) established royal factories in cities such as Tabriz, Kashan, Kirman and Isfahan. The two great Persian carpets presented here belong to this period of cultural, political and religious flowering.

For more information, visit the website of LACMA, Los Angeles, USA.

Exhibition: Fibres of Life – Ikat Textiles of the Indonesian Archipelago

Exhibition dates: 15 September – 25 November 2017

The University Museum and Art Gallery (UMAG), University of Hong Kong, is pleased to announce Fibres of Life: IKAT Textiles of the Indonesian Archipelago. With the exhibition and the publication of Ikat Textiles of the Indonesian Archipelago, UMAG offers a comprehensive overview of the profusion of ikat styles found across the Indonesian archipelago, accompanied by the first detailed reference book on the subject.

Looking at OATG member Peter Ten Hoopen’s Pusaka Collection from a scholarly point of view, it is worth acknowledging how it illustrates the concept of ‘unity in diversity’, which the young state of Indonesia chose as its motto upon independence. Here, the interwovenness of styles from neighbouring island regions matter, as do their marked individuality and idiosyncrasies. Moreover, it allows for the study not just of the people’s finery, but also of their daily attire, which is lamentably absent in most collections.

An ironic illustration of the effect of this collecting method comes from Ili Mandiri on Flores. As its dark red bridewealth sarongs have been prized and venerated by the local population, this is what most sophisticated collections have aimed to obtain. The simple but lovely indigo sarongs for everyday use have been almost entirely ignored by collectors; hence, they nearly always end up worn to shreds and very few survive – rarer now than the precious and respected, hence eagerly collected, bridewealth sarongs.

What knowledge is conserved about ikat textiles and their use in the Indonesian archipelago consists primarily of the records of missionary and scientific fieldwork, predominantly compiled by non-Indonesians. The coverage is thin – many weaving regions are covered by only one or two sources, and several regions have never been studied in any detail. Much traditional knowledge is being lost, especially in the more remote island regions in the Indonesian archipelago, which require concerted effort if any trace of their culture is to survive. UMAG hopes to contribute to the broader project by means of this exhibition and publication, which show ikat culture through a close reading of examples from over fifty weaving regions and a brief introduction to the conditions, beliefs and customs of the various peoples who have created and used them. The Pusaka Collection reveals the stylistic spectrum of the archipelago’s ikat, while also showing remarkable correspondences rooted in time or sculpted by inter-island cultural exchanges. It is rich in superb and rare ikat textiles, many with few known cognates and some of them probably unique.

For more information, visit the website of the University Museum and Art Gallery, University of Hong Kong.

Exhibition: Japanese Bamboo Art – The Abbey Collection

Exhibition dates: 13 June 2017 – 4 February 2018

Featuring works of Japanese bamboo art dating from the late nineteenth century to the present the period when basketry in Japan became recognised as an art form that transcends ‘craft’ this loan exhibition showcases more than 80 bamboo baskets and sculptures created by accomplished artists, including all six masters who have received the designation ‘Living National Treasure’. Highlighting key stages in the modern history of Japanese bamboo art, the exhibition is drawn from the Abbey Collection, one of the finest private collections of Japanese baskets and bamboo sculpture; most of the works have never before been presented in public.

More than 70 of these remarkable objects promised gifts to The Metropolitan Museum from long-time New York residents Diane and Arthur Abbey will become part of the museum’s collection, bringing added depth to its already incomparable holdings in Asian art and allowing the museum to tell the modern history of Japanese basketry from the 1880s through the present. Complementing the bamboo works from the Abbey Collection is a lavish selection of hanging scroll and screen paintings and decorative arts, all from The Met’s holdings, that explores the bamboo motif along with related themes such as ikebana (flower arranging) and the tea ceremony.

For more information, visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA.

Exhibition: Diligence and Elegance – The Nature of Japanese Textiles

Exhibition dates: 12 July 2017 – 21 January 2018

Diligence and Elegance: The Nature of Japanese Textiles presents over 50 textiles and garments from the Textile Museum of Canada’s collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century artifacts made in Japan for both everyday and occasional use. Luxurious silk and gold fabrics produced in Kyoto’s professional weaving workshops are juxtaposed with domestic indigo-dyed cotton, plant-fibre cloth, and silk kimonos crafted in an astonishing spectrum of time-honoured techniques – weaving, dyeing, hand painting, gold foil application and embroidery – that exemplify venerable social and cultural values. The exhibition focuses on the highly refined skills and materials by which textiles have been constructed and decorated over centuries, and on how diligence and ingenuity have shaped their timeless beauty. The persistence of traditions seen in such rigorously executed textiles has come to embody the heart of Japanese aesthetics. Every material, colour and technique has a story to tell.

Diligence and Elegance features the contemporary work of Hiroko Karuno and Keiko Shintani, two Japanese-Canadians whose consummate craftsmanship and philosophies are profoundly connected to the evolution of Japanese textile traditions of spinning, dyeing and weaving. Their internationally renowned artistic achievements are testimony to the ethics of labour associated with a lifelong investment of time, practice and precision; they position living traditions as opportunities for personal reflection and the acknowledgement of the significance of collective human accomplishments.

For more information, visit the website of the Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto, Canada.

Exhibition: Embroidery from Koto, the East of the Lake  

Exhibition Dates:  5 August – 18 September 2017

Held at the Aisho-cho Museum of Culture and History, Japan.

OATG member Hiroko McDermott writes:

Exhibiting about 15–20 works, this is the first solo show of the works of the Aoki Embroidery in Hikone, an old castle town seated on the east shores of Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture. Some visitors to the Ashmolean exhibition, Threads of Silk and Gold (2012), might still remember its very large and elegant landscape hanging depicting ‘View of Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto’ (pl. 28) and a lively ‘Nikko’ (pl. 29).  As the whereabouts of Aoki was discovered only in the last minutes before the editing deadline of the catalogue, Clare Pollard and I could give only minimal information about this firm.  But the Aoki was very active and important in Japan’s export of embroidered pictures in the 1900s, and still keeps up its operation.  Presently it is led by Mr Tsuneo Aoki, the fourth head since its initiation by Hachiemon Aoki back in the 1890s.

Since 2013, Hiroko McDermott has visited the firm every time she has been back in Japan, and she is very happy to introduce Aoki-san and his works on this occasion.    

This local museum is small, but it is located next to a large ancient temple in a beautiful mountain setting. Anybody who is interested in joining Hiroko at the beginning of September will be very welcome. Also, for more information, just email her at hirokomcd@aol.com.

Open: Wednesday to Sunday, 10–5, and also the national holiday of Monday, 18 September.

For more information, visit the website of the Aisho-cho Museum of Culture and History (website in Japanese), Japan, or contact Hiroko McDermott directly.

Exhibition: Hidden in the Lining – Krishna in the Garden of Assam, the Tales of Two Textiles

Exhibition dates: 17 April – 3 Sepember 2017

A partnership exhibition created between Chepstow Museum and the British Museum explores the origins, stories and meanings of woven silk temple textiles from seventeenth-century north-east India. A stunning example is from Monmouthshire Museums’ own collections – an elegant eighteenth-century gentleman’s dressing gown, its magnificent lining made from this rare group of Assamese textiles – only about twenty examples survive today.

They are known as Vrindavani Vastra, which means the cloth of Vrindavan, a forested region in north India where the Hindu god Krishna is believed to have lived as a young cowherd early in his eventful life. Dramatic scenes from Krishna’s life are woven into these vibrant strips of cloth. The same scenes feature in dance dramas performed with elaborate masks that are still distinctive to the region. Masks made by monks and textiles have been loaned by the British Museum, and two beautifully illustrated pages from the finest Assamese manuscript in the British Library are also in the exhibition. The scene is set with some stunning film made in Assam featuring the masked dramas in preparation and performance. (A Textile Society grant made the exhibition of the gentleman’s ‘banyan’ possible.)

This exhibition is taking place at Chepstow Museum, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, NP16 5EZ.

Open: Monday to Sunday, 11–4.

For more information, visit the website of Chepstow Museum.