Video: Ursula Graham Bower – Fieldwork in Nagaland (1939-1944)

Last month several OATG members attended special walk-throughs of the Intrepid Women exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum, led by two of the curators of that exhibition Julia Nicholson and Zena McGreevy.

One of the highlights for me was the display of textiles from Nagaland, collected by Ursula Graham Bower. When she was only 23 years old she went to Manipur and the Naga Hills. She was fascinated by the Naga culture – as was I on my first visit several decades later. She returned a couple of years later with the idea of doing some medical work and taking photographs. She succeeded in doing both. As well as dispensing medicines she took several thousand photographs and shot some of the earliest colour film taken by an anthropologist.

The time she was there was certainly a dangerous one. According to the Pitt Rivers website “During the Second World War, when the Japanese threatened to launch an invasion of India through the north-eastern hills, the British asked Bower to form a band of Naga scouts as part of the ‘V Force’ guerrilla unit. Her forces became so effective that the Japanese put a price on her head.”

The Pitt Rivers Museum has an excellent collection of Naga textiles, several of which are on permanent display. Several years ago while attending a festival in Nagaland I was approached by a woman who explained she was a researcher from the Pitt Rivers and was taking images of textiles held in their collection to show the local people so she could gain more information about them. This turned out to be a two-way process as some of the patterns and techniques used on the textiles now in the UK had not been in use locally for some years.

 

This nine-minute video clip was originally shown as part of the ‘Intrepid Women: Fieldwork in Action” exhibition. It shows highlights of film footage, in both black and white and in colour, which was recorded by Ursula Graham Bower during fieldwork in Nagaland between 1939 and 1944.

Although the opening sequence is not so relevant to textile lovers, patience is rewarded. From 02.02 to 06.40 we see the fabulous beaded headcovers worn at the Tangkhul Spring Festival and this then leads on to footage of the weaving and spinning by various different groups – the Kabui, Kuki and Chiru. It was very interesting to see the angle at which the backtension loom was placed. Stick with this right to the end and you will see some great blankets and jewellery too.

Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Video editing by OATG member Katherine Clough.

 

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Video: Reviving a Silk Road Tradition

Screenshot from the documentary. © NHK World Japan

NHK World Japan have just released a new short documentary on ikat-making in Uzbekistan. It will be available to view until 8 March 2019 here.

This short documentary focuses on the work of Muhayo Aliyeva, the remarkable woman behind the Bibi Hanum brand. Muhayo created this brand back in 2006 and through it has provided work for many women not only in her Tashkent headquarters, but also further afield in the Ferghana Valley. According to their website “Bibi Hanum™ is a socially responsible enterprise that creates garments and accessories using traditional hand-woven silk cotton ikat fibre. Founded by Muhayo Alieva its mission is to provide economic opportunities for women while preserving Uzbekistan’s rich cultural and ethnographic heritage.”

Early on in the documentary we see the difficulties she has faced bringing a reinterpretation of Uzbek ikat to a modern audience, and how she has altered traditional patterns to suit her particular needs. We are also introduced to Rasuljon Mirzaahmedov, a fifth-generation ikat maker from Margilan – a famous centre of ikat production. In 2005 UNESCO awarded him a “Seal of Excellence” for his research into, and revitalisation of, the craft of velvet ikat weaving known as bakhmal. In fact 2005 was a very busy year for Rasuljon as that was also when he established the Khorezm Weaving centre in the old city of Khiva – a city which several OATG members have visited with Sheila Paine.  I was intrigued to see the machine they used for binding the bundles of 100 threads in his workshop in Margilan. Rasuljon demonstrated his expertise at the Textile Society of America Symposium in Washington DC in 2012 as part of a Central Asia panel organised by Christine Martens. He is a regular participant in the Santa Fe International Folk Art market.

Also in 2005 the fashion designer Oscar de la Renta used ikat cloths created by Rasuljon in his collection. The designer was clearly enamoured with these textiles, using them in many catwalk shows over a period of years. In this short video interview he speaks of his appreciation for the work that goes into creating ikat textiles and we can see some of his creations, including this stunning strapless dress.

Several of de la Renta’s pieces featured in the exhibition To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia, which was held at the Freer/Sackler from March to July last year. Some of the highlights of the exhibition can be viewed here. Just click on each image to see the enlarged versions.

Ikat trench coat. Oscar de la Renta 2005 collection. © Smithsonian

Curatorial assistant Christina Elliott describes the process of preparing these textiles for the exhibition here. It was interesting to read of their method of insect prevention and see what goes on behind the scenes of a textile exhibition.

Part of the To Dye For exhibition. © Smithsonian

Last July Muhayo Aliyeva gave a presentation on Contemporary Ikat Designs at the Freer/Sackler as part of the programme arranged around this exhibition.  The whole event was filmed and can be seen here. In it she talks about the history of ikat in Central Asia and then shows current production methods, including the design, dyeing and weaving of the cloth. The video clips she shows of the warping up are really interesting, especially when you realise they are coping with 3000 fine threads.

Threading the reed. © Muhayo Aliyeva.

Another major ikat exhibition opened a couple of weeks ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Entitled Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats from the David and Elizabeth Reisbord Collection it highlights over 60 examples of ikat textiles – including clothing and woven panels. I like the fact that they show several garments worn in layers on the mannequins. This does mean that it’s more difficult to focus on an individual piece, but it gives a more accurate picture of how they would have been worn in the past.

The organiser of this exhibition, Clarissa M. Esguerra, will be giving an exclusive lecture to members of the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California (TMA/SC) on Saturday 2 March 2019 in the Brown Auditorium at LACMA. Email info@tmasc.org for more details on membership.

One of the most striking garments in the Oscar de la Renta collection was this ikat coat with a fur trim, designed for the 2000 Balmain Haute Couture collection. The coat is clearly made up from several different sections of ikat, particularly on the right front. The pattern of the ikat is very reminiscent of the ikat made in a very different area of Uzbekistan – Khorezm.

Many people are unaware of the ikat-producing tradition in the city of Khiva. The cloth here is known as adras. It has a silk ikat warp and a cotton weft, giving it a fine ribbed texture.This design with the central turquoise  stripe and alternating red and green horns was the most popular with the nearby Qaraqalpaqs on their kiymesheks and shapans.

 Khivan patterns were simplified versions of Bukharan designs. This is not surprising given that they were made by members of a small community of Jewish dyers who arrived in Khiva with their traditional Bukharan designs.For more information on this small centre of ikat production visit the website of OATG members David and Sue Richardson on the Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Video: Hairstyles from the Floating World

 

The exhibition entitled Painting the Floating World – Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, which I blogged about here is ending on 27 January.

According to the website of the Art Institute of Chicago the courtesans, geisha, and actors depicted in the ukiyo-e paintings of the 17th -19th centuries were the beautiful people of Edo-period Japan. “The world they moved in, the “floating world” (ukiyo), was all about glamour, sophistication, and style. The fashions they wore reflected not only class and occupation but also trends and individual taste, all of which were focused on the attempt to create an ideal picture of beauty. 

Though the overall look of each individual bijin (beauty) was created by the combination of cosmetics, clothing, and hairstyle, this video focuses on the complicated process and elaborate result of hairstyling. Filmed in a shrine in near Kyoto, the 90-year-old Minami Tomiko, one of the few living masters of the art, recreates three intricate hairstyles”. These are the Kamome tabo or seagull’s tail, the Tōrōbin or lantern locks, and the Yoko hyōgo or butterfly.

It’s amazing to see just how much work went into creating these elaborate styles, and this really brought the world in which these women moved to life.

Click here to view the video.

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Video: Fabric Pieces – Honouring the Past

 

This video was first broadcast by NHK World – Japan as part of its Core Kyoto series on 12 December 2018.

“Kyotoites in days of old valued high quality fabric and woven textiles from abroad like gold. Pieces of these fabrics have been handed down and continue to fascinate people today. Their eternal beauty is preserved through repurposing as tea utensil pouches, tobacco holders, obi sashes and even as works of art. Weavers strive to learn the techniques used in days gone by in order to reproduce them.”

Part of this video looks at the influence of Indian chintz on Japanese design and features an amazing scrapbook of fabric pieces. The problems of recreating different colours – especially red – are also discussed.

Another section of this video examines one man’s passion for kogire, as these old fabric pieces are called. Teiichiro Saito has over 1,000 of these small scraps, which he studies and tries to reproduce, or use as inspiration for new kimonos. Sometimes he adds small pieces of ancient fabric to modern designs. His most prized possession is a piece of Japanese fabric from the 1500s.

Please not this video is only available to view until 26 December so why not make a little time for yourself and watch it now – highly recommended viewing!

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Video: Patola Weaving in Patan, Gujarat

 

 

This video documents the process of weaving a patola in Patan, Gujarat. There are so many stages to this process, but when you watch them cutting open the bindings your heart really is in your mouth – just one slip and all of that work would be ruined!

Note the precision with which they are adjusting single threads at the end of the video.

See the video here