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

 

PLEASE NOTE Subscribers who usually read this blog via their email will need to click on the blue title to access it through our WordPress site instead to enable them to watch the videos.

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.