Ainu exhibition in Köln – guest blog

The Ainu are considered to be the indigenous people of Northern Japan who originally lived as hunter-gatherer communities mainly on the islands of Hokkaido and Sakhalin. On 5 November 2021 a new exhibition about these people opened at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (RJM) in Köln. The exhibition, which is called A Soul in Everything – Encounters with Ainu from the North of Japan, closes on 20 February 2022.

I am honoured to present below an article about the exhibition written by the curators OATG member Walter Bruno Brix and Dr Annabelle Springer (RJM).

Key visual for the exhibition “A Soul in Everything. Encounters with Ainu from the North of Japan” © RJM, http://www.mariehelenscheid.de, Büro für Gestaltung – Marie-Helen Scheid

For Ainu, everything is animate – from mountains and waterfalls to small everyday items. This spirituality has always been of elemental importance to Ainu groups in Northern Japan and remains a central element of their cultural identity today. In their imagination, there is a living/inhabiting “soul” (kamuy) in almost everything that communicates with people. In the Köln exhibition, the beauty of things is made visible. It gives an insight into the history and resistance movement of Ainu groups and at the same time an impression of the beauty of their material and immaterial culture, complemented by contemporary artistic positions.

Exhibition “A Soul in Everything” © Annabelle Springer 2021

The cooperation with the National Ainu Museum, Hokkaido, Japan and the scientists affiliated there enabled deeper insights into Ainu cultures. In close exchange with representatives of Ainu groups, aspects of handling the things were discussed from a curatorial, restorative, and conservation-ethical perspective. Contemporary artistic positions were intensively integrated into the processual creation of the exhibition and elaborated for the exhibition.

Exhibition “A Soul in Everything” – Statement by artist and activist Dr. Kanako Uzawa © Annabelle Springer 2021

These include video works by artist and Ainu activist Mayunkiki, in which she reflects on what it means to be ‘Ainu’ and thus being part of a social minority in Japan; poignant portraits of both old and young generations of Ainu by Italian documentary photographer and director Laura Liverani, who thus sets a counterpoint to the historical portraits of Ainu in the RJM’s photographic collection; video projections by French artist Boris Labbé that intertwine duplication, reflections, and interweaving of the patterns of Ainu textiles and onomatopoeia of Ainu chants; and the dance works of Norway-based Ainu activist and artist Dr. Kanako Uzawa, who not only stimulates a sensitisation in the perception of minorities, but also responds to Ainu traditions in her artistic works.

The Collections in the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

The museum’s collections include 203 items that can be attributed to Ainu groups, as well as 80 historical photographs by Polish photographer Bronisław Piłsudski, who traveled to Ainu areas in the late nineteenth century. At that time, Western interest in Ainu cultures was high. They were idealised as good-natured and noble, in line with a romantic version of Rousseau’s notion of the “noble savage.” In Germany, moreover, the thesis of Ainu as a “missing link” between “Asian” and “European” people was intensively pursued. As a result, interest in their culture grew steadily. This was also the case with Wilhelm Joest, who traveled to Hokkaido in 1881 and from whose collection 18 items have been preserved by the museum. At the same time, antique and ethnographic dealers such as the Johann Friedrich Umlauff company sensed opportunities for lucrative business. In 1906 and 1907, more than 700 things from Hokkaido and Sakhalin were first offered to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum by the Hamburg company Umlauff. The Foundation for the Promotion of the Museum acquired 220 numbers for the collection. In the further course of the twentieth century, interest in the cultures of the Ainu ebbed away, as evidenced by the small number of only three additions from private collections within the following 106 years.

The Köln collection includes ethnographic things such as tools, knives and other weapons for hunting, as well as arrows and bows, lances and fishing accessories. Also plates, bowls, spoons and mashers for preparing and serving food. Ceremonial items include libation spatulas (ikupasuy), prayer sticks (inao), and amulets. An important inventory is the numerous textiles that were elaborately handcrafted by Ainu women. These include bags made of elm bast, carrying straps, robes, belts, headdresses, gloves and footwear, a small but important selection of which is presented in the exhibition.

Libation spatula (ikupasuy) nineteenth century. © Rheinisches Bildarchiv (RBA), photographer: Anja Wegner, rba d055076

A New Way of Dealing with Things

Things were reclassified not only from a curatorial perspective but also from a restoration and conservation perspective. The visit of a Japanese delegation in 2019 to study Ainu-related collections in European museums allowed things to be reclassified. Most of the things in the collection are made of perishable natural materials such as wood, bark, and fibres and undergo a process of change over time: they age, become brittle, or change in colours and textures. Slowing down these processes and thus documenting and preserving the things and all the information they contain for the future is the task of conservators. In the exhibition “A Soul in Everything” Petra Czerwinske, Kristina Hopp and Stephanie Lüerßen were responsible for this. They were also in close contact with colleagues from the National Ainu Museum and representatives of the Ainu from the very beginning. In addition to material-technological aspects, they discussed the handling of the things from a restorative and conservation-ethical perspective. In addition, in cooperation with the Institute for Restoration and Conservation Sciences at the Technical University in Köln, three textile items from the collection were examined and their materials and manufacturing techniques determined. In this way, valuable findings were obtained, which are presented in the exhibition.

Elm bast and embroidered silk

In the case of Ainu textiles, two main sources come together: on the one hand, Ainu women made garments from a variety of materials. These included fish skins, bird skins, and furs from hunted animals, but fabrics were also made from the bast fibres of trees such as linden and elm and from the fibres of nettle, and mats were woven from rushes. In contrast, textiles imported from Japan, China and Russia were made of cotton, wool or silk. In most cases, these were so precious that they were only used to decorate the homemade materials.

Upper garment (attush) from elm bast, nineteenth century (back).
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv (RBA), photographer: Anja Wegner, rba d055073_02

The textile highlight in the exhibition is a complete nineteenth century garment made of elm bast (attush amip), decorated with appliquéd patterns. The plain weave fabric was made on a simple loom in which the weaver controls the tension of the warp threads by means of her body posture. Fine stripes of dark blue cotton threads are woven in at irregular intervals between the warp threads of bast fibres. Two of the fabric strips with a width of about 40 cm were laid over the shoulder and sewn together to form the body, while two other shorter ones were ingeniously folded in a triangular shape and attached as sleeves. Along the hems and the collar, wide ribbons run around the robe. A complex symmetrical pattern is appliquéd on the back and in the lower part. This consists of wide stripes of indigo dyed cotton fabric from Japan, and narrow curved interwoven lines above. These are also made of imported tabby weave cotton fabrics. The fact that these line patterns were not embroidered with threads, but rather appliquéd from narrow strips of fabric, indicates that this garment originated from an Ainu group from Sakhalin that no longer exists today and was forcibly resettled to Hokkaido in 1875 [note 1].

Upper garment (attush) from elm bast, nineteenth century (front).
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv (RBA), photographer: Anja Wegner, rba d055073_02
 

The bands around the openings and the applied patterns are meant apotropaically, that is, to protect the person wearing the robe. The Ainu expression for this is sermaka omare [note 2]. Characteristic of Ainu patterns are spiral or bracket-like shapes (kiraw) and thorns (ayus) attached to the corners.

Small bag (ketush), nineteenth century (exterior). © Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, photographer: Walter Bruno Brix 2021

Three smaller textiles are presented lying in a showcase and give an insight into the work of the three students (Viola Costanza, Tjarda Rauh, Anastazia Zitzer) of the TH Köln. One of them is a small bag (ketush; Inv. No. 253251) that was also sewn together from elm bast with woven-in warp stripes of indigo cotton. In this case, the stripes are more complex and groups of two equal stripes alternate with three stripes of different widths. Several pieces, possibly remnants of a garment, were put together and bordered with a surrounding band of dark dyed cotton.

Small bag (ketush), nineteenth century (interior). © Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, photographer: Walter Bruno Brix 2021

The bag was worn with a cord loop on the belt. However, this is now torn and pulled out of the original openings in the flap. Whether this happened in use or was done intentionally to release the inherent ‘soul’ (kamuy) before giving it away cannot be determined with certainty today.

A small piece of silk wadding (Jap. mawata) is found under the folded-over flap. Possibly this sticky silk wadding once had a counterpart, so that it functioned like a kind of Velcro, or the wadding was used in making fire. Indeed, in this bag were kept bullets and a lighter for hunting.

Sleeveless jacket, nineteenth century. © Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, photographer: Walter Bruno Brix 2021

Also presented here is a tiny sleeveless jacket (Inv. No. 254391) for an infant. This one is made of tabby weave cotton, dyed dark brown or discoloured, partially with a printed fabric. The chrysanthemum pattern of this lining on a turquoise blue background points to an origin in China. All in all, the entire vest was probably imported from China [note 3]. A clue to this is also provided by the designation of this jacket in the purchase documents of 1907, where it is described with the Ainu word ‘imi,’ which Batchelor translates as: “Generally Japanese clothing. Clothes made after Japanese fashion. Sometimes any clothes” [note 4].

Cloth, nineteenth century. © Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, photographer: Walter Bruno Brix 2021

The third textile shown here (Inv. No. 254451) consists of four sections of a Japanese robe and two other Japanese fabrics. The four sections of damask silk on the upper side have been elaborately dyed and come from a sumptuous ladies’ robe (Jap. kosode) of the nineteenth century. The woven damask patterns show scattered flowers on a background of linked swastika. This type of damask silk was originally imported from China, but was also made in Japan during the nineteenth century. On the creamy white silk, the motifs of blooming chrysanthemums, maple and pine trees among clouds and stripes of mist were reserved with a rice paste. This was applied by hand before the fabric was dyed dark brown. After removing the rice paste, the patterns stand out light on a dark background. Details such as leaf veins were added in fine ink painting. Coloured silk and gold threads were used to additionally over-embroider some of the patterns. The reverse side consists of two Japanese fabrics, which were also patterned with rice paste in a reservage technique. Stencils were used on both. The blue fabric is decorated with flowers in rows, the brownish one shows fine dots (Jap. Edo komon), which are ordered to a dense flower pattern. What the narrow elongated cloth was used for in the Ainu culture has not yet been clarified. Certainly it was a treasured thing that was highly valued.

Amulet (hoxchiri), End of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. © Rheinisches Bildarchiv (RBA), photographer: Anja Wegner, rba d055081

Another highlight of the collection is a small triangular amulet (Inv. No. 253071) made of glass beads. This was woven into the forehead hair of the boys and when this part was shaved after his first successful hunt, the amulet also fell away. The small glass beads are threaded together and then sewn on a base of a Japanese fabric. This is woven in fine plain weave, whether of cotton or linen could not be investigated so far. There is a fine dot pattern on an indigo blue ground, which was created by applying rice paste using a stencil before dyeing.

The exhibition presents important historical Ainu textiles. In addition, the traditions behind these textiles are also made accessible in other ways. Thus, it is possible to touch two different pieces of the rare attush fabrics. One of them is more modern and without signs of use. Here the surface is still rough. The other piece is older and is softer on the surface because of frequent use and being washed several times. The density and thickness of the weaving threads of both pieces is also different.

Other features include two videos showing the textile craft techniques that have been handed down to the present day. One of the videos shows the weaver Yukiko Kaizawa making a length of fabric from elm bast fibres (attush). As she shows the steps of making it from fibre extraction to dyeing to the finished woven piece, she talks about her life. A second video shows Ikuko Okada sewing an Ainu garment (ruunpe) from the Shiraoi area and decorating it with appliqué. She also talks about her view of her work and the traditions she preserves.

The exhibition “A Soul in Everything – Encounters with Ainu from the North of Japan” gives a deep insight into the history of the museum collection, the traditions of Ainu groups and their beliefs. At the same time, it makes voices of Ainu of today and their way to recognition audible in a variety of ways.

Notes

  1. Josef Kreiner, Hans-Dieter Ölschleger: Ainu – Jäger, Fischer und Sammler im Norden Japans Bestandskatalog RJM Köln, 1987, S. 86, Kat. No. 133. Mashiyat Zaman: The Ainu and Japan‘s Colonial Legacy, posted 23.3.2020, retrieved 8.11.2021.
  2. Kristie Hunger: Sermaka Omare: The Ainu Motif of Protection. An Analysis of Traditional Ainu Artwork. 2017.
  3. Oral hint thanks to Yoshiko Wada.
  4. John Batchelor: An Ainu-English-Japanese Dictionary, 2nd ed., Tokyo 1905, p. 173.

OATG members may recall that we had planned a trip to the RJM for the summer of 2020, but alas were forced to cancel it. Hopefully this can be rearranged for the future as the museum really is worth spending time in. To get some idea of the scale of this museum and its textiles please take a look at this blog I wrote in 2019.

Coming soon…. exhibitions and talks on Ainu, Peruvian, Indonesian, Tudor and Arabian textiles.

An exhibition co-curated by OATG member Walter Bruno Brix has just opened at one of my favourite museums – the Rauchenstrauch-Joest museum in Köln, Germany.

Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, RJM 10699; Japan; Ostasien; Mantel attus; 1801/1900; rba_c023086

A Soul in Everything – Encounters with Ainu from Northern Japan can be seen from November 5, 2021 to February 20, 2022. It presents the cultures of the Ainu groups who “Only after the middle of the 20th century did a strong return to its traditions and a revitalization movement emerge, which led to its recognition as an indigenous group in 2008 and its legal implementation by the Japanese government in 2019. The Ainu are considered to be the indigenous people of Northern Japan who originally lived as hunter-gatherer communities mainly on the islands of Hokkaido and Sakhalin. From the middle of the 19th century they were colonized, relocated and exploited by Japan.” – RJM website.

This exhibition was hailed as a ‘must see’ by Thomas Murray, whose book Textiles of Japan has a major section on the Ainu.

Closer to home the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford also has a display focusing on the Ainu. A short film by Eiko Soga entitled Autumn Salmon is playing daily on the first floor balcony until the end of November. “In 2016, Eiko lived with an Ainu woman called Ms. Katsue Kaizawa and studied the making of Ainu kimono, embroidery and salmon-skin shoes. In Ainu culture, salmon traditionally served key economic, religious and spiritual roles. Today, it still plays an important role within Ainu communities but primarily to sustain their traditional values.” – PRM website.

A pair of salmon-skin shoes which date to around 1900 can be seen in a case next to the film installation. These waterproof boots were known as chepkeri and were made from up to six dried and stretched salmon skins stitched together.

Chancay Inca tunic, Peru 1000-1470. © The Trustees of the British Museum

On Thursday 11 November a major new exhibition, Peru a journey in time, opens at the British Museum and will run until 20 February 2022.  This exhibition has been organised in conjunction with the Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

The Chancay tunic shown above is one of the highlights of the exhibition. “The woven symbols on this tunic are painted in cream and brown tones and represent the diverse environments across the Andes. They have been arranged in bands, one showing feathers representing birds from the Amazon rainforest, and the other concentric circles possibly representing Andean lagoons or cochas. A running scroll design at the bottom depicts the moving waves of the Pacific Ocean”. – BM website.

An online introduction to this new exhibition, featuring curators Jago Cooper and Cecilia Pardo-Grau, will take place this Thursday at 17:30 GMT. This is a free event, but to do need to book to secure your place. I’m not sure how many textiles are featured in the exhibition, but will hopefully get a better idea then.

Saturday 13 November sees the next of the Rug and Textile Appreciation mornings hosted by the Textile Museum. Dr Lauren Mackay will talk about Woven Treasures From the East in the Royal Tudor Court.

“For the Tudors, the Islamic world of the 16th century was an endless source of fascination and delight, swathed in fine silks, bursting with spices and draped in luxurious and vibrant tapestries and carpets. Henry VIII’s chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, began the Tudor love affair with Orientalism, and soon English society coveted Ottoman and Persian culture: Its art, dress, textiles and carpets became highly sought–after symbols of wealth and power.” – Textile Museum.

This virtual programme, which is co-sponsored by the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California, begins at 12:00 EST, which is 17:00 GMT. There is no charge, but you do need to register for it.

This Sunday, 14 November, the Zay Initiative will hold an online symposium on the subject of Arab Costume Collections: Sustaining Legacies. This 2-hour event will be hosted by Ben Evans of Hali and there will be two panels; the first looking at The importance of Arab Dress and Culture and the second examining The role and relevance of heritage for contemporary brands. Speakers include Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, Richard Wilding, Shahira Mehrez and Marriam Mossalli.

This free webinar begins at 13:00 GMT and registration is essential.

On Tuesday 16 November OATG member Lesley Pullen will give a hybrid lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society. The subject of her talk is Patterned Splendour: Textiles depicted on Javanese sculpture 8th -15th century.

This free lecture begins at 18:30 GMT and the venue is 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD. If you wish to attend, either in person or via Zoom, please register by emailing Matty Bradley.

Lesley’s book on this subject was published earlier this year. “The equatorial climate of Java has precluded any textiles from this period surviving. Therefore this book argues the textiles represented on these sculptures offer a unique insight into the patterned splendour of the textiles in circulation during this period. This volume contributes to our knowledge of the textiles in circulation at that time by including the first comprehensive record of this body of sculpture, together with the textile patterns classified into a typology of styles within each chapter.” Patterned Splendour has a large number of detailed illustrations, which should provide an invaluable resource for the reader. Some of these illustrations, with detailed notes, can be seen on the excellent Art of the Ancestors website here.

Textiles from Japan, Africa, the Pacific, Asia…….

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Tomorrow, 15 October 2020, the Japan House, London will host a panel discussion on the making of the film Ainu – Indigenous People of Japan by director Mizoguchi Naomi.

“Filmed in Biratori, Hokkaido, this documentary follows the everyday life of four elder members of the Ainu community, focussing on their experiences and efforts in the preservation of history and culture through Ainu language classes and participation in several daily activities.” – Japan Society website.

After the panel discussion, registered participants will be able to watch a full screening of the film via a video link. For more information and a link to how to book click here.

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In a previous blog (2 October) I mentioned another Japan Foundation event – an online talk entitled Kimono Crossing the Sea – Its Power to Inspire Imagination and Creativity on Friday 16 October at 1200 BST. 

OATG member Felicity Wood has kindly informed me of another kimono-related talk – The Unbounded Potential of Kimono, Kyoto to Catwalk – this time organised by the Embassy of Japan. This online talk takes place on Tuesday 20 October at 1300 BST.

Kimono, designed by Jotaro Saito for the Fog Empire Collection Show

“Against the backdrop of the ongoing exhibition at the V&A, Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, its curator and Keeper of Asian department, Anna Jackson, will be in conversation with Kimono designer Jotaro Saito, who will join from Japan. The two will talk about the exhibition, how they met, and about Jotaro’s convicition that the kimono is an everyday object of fashion that fits into modern life. In following the notion of a total look, in which the designer creates the garment, obi, and all the accessories, the session will explore what this philosophy means in practice for Jotaro Saito’s designs.”

Click here to register for this event.

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A new exhibition entitled Fibres Africaines opened at the Musée de la Toile de Jouy near Paris on 1 October, and this will run until 28 March 2021.

This exhibition will celebrate “the creativity and diversity of African textiles. While some fabrics are made with precious materials such as silk or glass pearls, others have the audacity to be real luxury pieces, yet designed from humble materials. Raffia fabrics, tree bark, cottons colored with natural dyes such as indigo can be regarded as real works of art for the virtuosity of their manufacturing techniques.” – museum website. 

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I found this blog by Sarah Foskett of the University of Glasgow Textile Conservation team really interesting. In it she gives some background to a five year project looking at Pacific barkcloth.

The Hunterian GLAHM E.537. A small section of the outer border of a late 19th century Fijian masi kesa fabric, stencilled in black, red and brown. (© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow)

Last month they held several online workshops and a website has now been launched. This is still being developed, with new information constantly being added.

There are also a series of videos showing some aspects of barkcloth production. The one above focusses on some of the dyes used.

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On Saturday 7 November the Textile Museum, Washington will host another Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning. The presenter will be Alberto Levi, and the subject is Italian Peasant Rugs. “In this illustrated lecture, independent researcher Alberto Boralevi will explore how textiles produced in the Italian folk tradition blend designs and techniques from the East and West……. The term “peasant rugs” generally refers to textiles produced by Italian folk tradition, primarily from the peninsula’s central-southern zones, as well as Sicily and Sardinia. The techniques and patterns of these Italian rural weavings share a striking affinity with the tribal weavings of Anatolia, Persia, and the Caucasus.” – Museum website.

For more information and to register please follow this link.

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On Wednesday 21 October and Thursday 22 October the Textile Museum will host a two-day roundtable to celebrate the creation of the new Cotsen Textile Traces Study Center.

Patchwork trade cloth robe (detail), Indonesia, 18th century. Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection T-2852. Bruce M. White Photography.

“Beginning with an introduction to Lloyd Cotsen’s collecting and an overview of the collection and study center, the roundtable will feature five one-hour panels highlighting textiles from five continents, including an Indian robe for Indonesia, a Kuba hat, and Captain Cook’s sample book of tapa cloth.” – museum website.

The subjects of the five panels are : Asia, Europe-Central Asia, Africa, Americas and Oceania. Our founder, Ruth Barnes, will look at a patchwork coat (pictured above), created from over 100 small pieces of Indian block-printed textiles. and intended for Indonesia.

In her presentation Hélène Dubied will look at a Central Asian silk weft-faced compound twill, which dates to the seventh to tenth century. This is part of the permanent exhibition of the Abegg Stiftung. The presenter will give details of how this delicate textile was conserved.

I have a particular fascination with Captain James Cook, so will be most interested in Adrienne Kaeppler’s talk on the Alexander Shaw Barkcloth Books. These books are made up of pieces of barkcloth from Cook’s actual voyages!

These are just a few of the highlights of this event – the pdf with the full programme can be accessed here. Please note registration is essential.

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I’ve mentioned the superb videos produced by the Tracing Patterns Foundation in previous blogs. Their latest release is called Kantha Reimagined: From Private to Public . This was co-produced with Kantha Productions LLC.

The presenter this time is Cathy Stevulak, who explains the importance of kantha as a women’s artform in Bengal. I was intrigued to learn of references in the 6th century BCE to kantha being worn by ascetics.

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Silk Road Symposium, Japanese textiles, Pitt Rivers reopens

 

Great news! The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (a personal favourite of mine) is reopening on 22 September 2020. In line with current regulations, visitors will have to pre-book a free ticket in advance.

The museum is accessed through the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, an awe-inspiring space with wonderful informative displays.

 

You can just see the entrance to the Pitt Rivers behind the skeleton of the young Asian elephant. © Oxford University Museum of Natural History

 

Interior of the Pitt Rivers. © Charlotte-Brown.com

For those not familiar with this museum, you can visit it virtually through this link on their website. You can use this tool to zoom around the display cases while in the comfort of your own home. When you find something of interest you can then search their database for more information.

Postcard from Japan-British Exhibition, The Bear Killer, Ainu Home, 1910. Misa Tamura, private collection.

Their website also has a selection of conservation stories, explaining how conservators have worked on an object. In some cases the before and after photographs show a marked difference, in others it is much more subtle. This particular example shows the work done to preserve an Ainu hunting quiver, which was purchased for the museum in 1910. Staff collaborated with the Historical Museum of Hokkaido, and in reading this article we gain some insight into the position of the Ainu in Japanese society.

 

I have mentioned Thomas Murray, the author of Textiles of Japan, several times in previous blogs. Tomorrow, Saturday 12 September, he will be discussing the central themes of this book as part of the regular Rug and Textile Appreciation sessions hosted by the Textile Museum. “The talk will cover daily dress, work-wear, and festival garb, and follows the Arts and Crafts philosophy of the Mingei Movement. Murray will present subtly patterned cotton fabrics – often indigo dyed from the main islands of Honshu and Kyushu – along with garments from the more remote islands: the graphic bark cloth, nettle fiber, and fish skin robes of the aboriginal Ainu in Hokkaido and Sakhalin in the north, and the brilliantly colored cotton kimonos of Okinawa to the far south.” Museum website. Spaces for this online event are limited and registration is necessary through this link. Please note the session takes place at 11am EDT which is 1600 in the UK.

 

 

Regrettably I have only just become aware of a Symposium currently taking place at the University of Kansas entitled Visual and Material Culture of the Silk Road(s). This two-day event began today, but hopefully you might still have time to register vis this link for tomorrow’s sessions. Timing is 0900-1215 Central time, which is 1500-1815 in the UK.

“Inspired by the Eurasian trade routes that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the mid-15th century, this symposium highlights how artworks, design, trade goods, medicine, religion, and people traveled both overland and by sea and stimulated new cultural forms and ideas. While the term “Silk Road,” invented in the 19th century, may conjure an image of camels plodding across the desert on one contiguous road, speakers in this symposium challenge us to envision instead a dynamic pattern of cross-cultural exchanges occurring between Asia, Africa, and beyond that continues today.” University website.

 

Woman’s pleated wedding skirt 1800s, Qing Dynasty. © Spencer Museum of Art

The Spencer Museum of Art will be running an online exhibition to accompany this symposium. The exhibition, entitled Interweaving Cultures along the Silk Road, will run until 13 December 2020.

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Textile tidbits

 

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This week members of the OATG were scheduled to visit the Mediterranean Threads exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. For obvious reasons this was not possible. However a virtual tour has now been made available online.

Linen and silk bed valance fragment with cockerel. Northern Sporades, 18th century. EA1960.153. ©Ashmolean Museum.

Mediterranean Threads – Greek Embroideries 1700-1900 AD gives us a flavour of the hugely diverse textiles being created across the Greek islands and mainland using a variety of techniques. As houses often consisted of just one room, bed curtains were essential to provide some privacy. These provided an ideal way to decorate the home and showcase the skill of the occupants. The exhibition also looks at possible links between the Greek embroidery and that of the Egyptians, and trade links with Venice and other areas. I was struck by the similarity between a textile from Naxos and the embroidery I have previously seen in Fez, Morocco. Do make sure you click to see the images in full screen to fully appreciate them.

Douwe Klaas Wielenga (1880-1942) of the Dutch Reformed Church.

From a current exhibition to one that ended decades ago. Leven en Dood op Sumba (Life and Death on Sumba) was an exhibition held at the Museum of Ethnology in Rotterdam in 1965/66. The majority of the exhibits were collected by the missionary Douwe Klaas Wielenga between 1904 and 1921 and have been held by the museum ever since. A 32 page introduction to the exhibition was written by the late Monni Adams.

This is a great opportunity to see a collection of textiles with a well-documented provenance. Please note – I copied this video a couple of years ago and omitted to note where it came from. I have searched unsuccessfully to find the source, so uploaded the video myself. If anyone can tell me the original source I will obviously link to that instead.

19th century Ainu robe made from elm bark fibre and cotton. ©Thomas Murray

I’ve written previously about Textiles of Japan: The Thomas Murray Collection – a weighty tome in every sense. An interesting article about this book and its author by Andrea Marechal Watson can be found here. Ainu robes are very striking and were made using a variety of materials including nettles, hemp, salmon skin, cotton and elm bark.

A wonderful set of photos of contemporary Ainu people by Laura Liverani was produced for an exhibition which took place in Sydney last year. I was particularly drawn to the image of Kazunobu Kawanano, an elder photographed outside of his home wearing a traditional robe.

 

Another exciting development is the opening of the new museum in Hokkaido prefecture celebrating Ainu culture – thanks to Tom Murray for sharing this information. This video was taken last week when local people were invited in small groups to see the museum before it opens to the public – date to be confirmed.

 

This photo of the exhibition gives some idea of the size of the pieces.

The Historical and Ethnographical Museum in Switzerland has now reopened its doors and has an exhibition entitled Manzandaran Kilims: Unknown Flat Fabrics from Northern Persia. A few examples of these strikingly modern textiles can be seen in this article in Selvedge. These kilims were created in around 1900 and have a real freshness and vibrancy.

And finally the Californian Lutheran University will be hosting a webinar tomorrow evening (19 June 2020) by Dr Sam Bowker who will be discussing the Tentmakers of Cairo. The good news for those of you in the wrong time zone is that the lecture is being recorded and will be available to view online this weekend. Go to the university website for more details.

 

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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.

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Exhibition: Master – An Ainu Story

 

Exhibition dates: 12 October – 15 December 2018

Growing up in Japan has never been easy for the Ainu people. Since Japan took over Hokkaido in 1869, they have struggled to be seen as equals in their own land – only being officially recognised as the indigenous people of Japan in 2008.

Through a series of photos taken by Adam Isfendiyar, this exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, will take the audience on a journey through the recent history of the Ainu people, incorporating stories shared by Kenji Matsuda – head of the Akan Ainu Preservation Society.

Over a two-year period, Adam lived with Matsuda san in the Ainu community of Akan – one of the 3 main Ainu settlements in Hokkaido. Matsuda san grew up being discriminated against in his own land because of his Ainu heritage and gives a rare insight into the life of the indigenous people of northern Japan.

There is very little documentation on the Ainu in English and few Japanese know much about them. It is thought that there may be up to 200 000 people of Ainu decent living in Japan today, but due to the history of discrimination against them only 10 percent of that number will admit to having Ainu roots.

This exhibition looks at the personal story of a man who carried the legacy of shame from his grandparents generation and has tried to help revitalise this deep and rich culture that the Japanese government attempted to eliminate at the end of the 19th century.

Open daily except Mondays from 10:30am – 5pm, and until 8pm on Thursdays.

Note: Adam Isfendiyar will be at the Gallery on the following dates from 5:30pm to meet and give guided tours:

8 November, 22 November, 13 December

For more information visit the website of The Brunei Gallery, SOAS

 

Exhibition: Mingei of Japan – Treasures New and Old from the Museum’s Collection

Mingei International Museum - Mingei of Japan

Exhibition dates: 2 April – 2 October 2016

After the Mingei International Museum’s year and a half devoted to American folk art, craft and design it seems appropriate to return to Mingei’s origins and to plumb again the rich core of the museum’s collection, its Japanese arts of daily life. Brief selections from Soetsu Yanagi’s writings (he coined the word mingei) accompany and give context to a wide range of objects, not thought of as art until Yanagi’s inspired insight, but today recognised as beautiful and timeless.

Recent gifts and purchases will be featured along with long-held objects that are well-known to museum members and much admired by them. Among donated treasures to be seen for the first time will be important textiles: indigo-dyed bedclothes, futon covers, door hangings, wrapping cloths, kimono, kimono belts made from recycled material and painted Boys’ Day and birthday banners.

A large selection from 153 mostly nineteenth-century Shinto ema paintings just acquired by purchase will also be exhibited for the first time. These are folk paintings, depictive of animals familiar and exotic, of vegetables and people in a truly disarming manner. They were sold at shrines (and still are) and hung there by devotees as offerings to accompany prayers.

Among familiar treasures will be baskets, soba cups, tea kettles and pots, cabinets, distinctive coats of the Ainu (Japan’s indigenous people), kimono of national treasure Keisuke Serizawa, a selection of anonymous pottery as well as that of famed potters Kanjiro Kawai, Shoji Hamada and Tatsuzo Shimaoka.

For more information, visit the website of the Mingei International Museum, San Diego, California, USA.