Selected textile exhibitions and events

Several years ago I was lucky enough to spend some time with Kikuo Morimoto at his Wisdom of the Forest project in Cambodia.

Kikuo Morimoto

“In 1975 the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and, in events often overlooked by a good portion of today’s world, proceeded to almost completely wipe out Cambodian culture, including textiles.  Twill-woven weft ikat was an important part of that culture with textiles playing a major role in both every day and ritual life.  With many of the weavers killed and the basics to create the fibers and dyes needed for weaving deliberately destroyed, there was a need for assistance to bring back the traditional means of producing ikat textiles.  Kikuo Morimoto from Japan began the arduous task of finding the few women surviving who knew how to tie the designs and dye the colors using natural dyes.” – Jenny Spancake

Mr Morimoto wrote a memoir detailing his endeavours, which was published in 2008 under the title Bayon Moon. Sadly he passed away in 2017, but his work continues through the IKTT organisation and proceeds from this second expanded e-book edition of his memoir will help continue the work he started and to which he dedicated so much of his life.

It is available through iTunes and your local Amazon website – for example here in the UK and here in the USA.

One of the rooms in Paul Hughes Fine Arts with an amazing Huari Cushma from camelid fibre dating to around 800AD at the centre

Paul Hughes Fine Arts in Somerset currently has a fascinating exhibition entitled Continuities (ending 24 October 2021). Here you can see pre-Columbian textiles on show next to contemporary works in various mediums – textiles, painting, sculpture.

“All Art was Once Contemporary – Continuities is intended to illustrate how works from different periods and cultures are visually interwoven despite their diverse chronological and geographical background, whether it is an affinity in aesthetics or intentionality imbued within the living artist’s creations.” – PHFA website

There are some fabulous textiles illustrated in the online catalogue, but they will have to wait until I win the lottery.

Lubaina Himid’s Lost Threads at the British Textile Biennial 2021 at Gawthorpe Hall, uses 1,300ft of fabric to reflect on the history of cotton
© James Speakman/Mercury Press

As part of the British Textile Biennial 2021 there is a major new installation by Turner-prize winning artist Lubaina Himid at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. The placing of this in the Great Barn is just perfect.

Detail of one of the textiles on show.

“Cascading through the structure of Gawthorpe Hall’s Great Barn, 400 metres of Dutch Wax fabric reflect the movement of oceans and rivers that have been used to transport cotton across the planet and over centuries. Waterways historically carried raw cotton, spun yarn, and woven textiles from continent to continent, as well as enslaved people from Africa to pick raw cotton in the southern states of America or workers who migrated from South Asia to operate looms here in East Lancashire.” – British Textile Biennial website.

The irrepressible John Gillow with his stand at a previous World Textile Day event

Saturday 16 October is the East of England World Textile Day in Norfolk. The venue is at Mundford near Thetford. Traders confirmed so far are Textile Traders, the African Fabric Shop, Susan Briscoe Designs and OATG member and author of several textile tomes John Gillow. The event starts at 10:00 – get there early to browse through a great range of ethnic textiles!

Cutting the binding threads on Savu. © David Richardson

On Saturday 16 October Geneviève Duggan will give a Zoom lecture about the ikat textiles of Savu in Eastern Indonesia for the Textile Arts Council in San Francisco. Geneviève gave a presentation to OATG members in March of this year, which was a great success.  Sadly not long after that Savu was hit by cyclone Seroja and is still recovering from its effects.

Geneviève has been studying the textiles and material culture of this island for decades, spending long periods living with the weavers in their villages. I’ve met her there several times and her love for the place and its people is clear.

This talk will take place at 10:00 PDT, which is 18:00 BST. Click here to register.

Young girl in a Dani village. © Tracing Patterns Foundation

The OATG event for October will be an online talk by OATG members Chris Buckley and Sandra Sardjono of the Tracing Patterns Foundation. The subject will be Fiber Arts from Papua.

“The Dani people of the Baliem Valley in Papua possess no looms, but fiber forms an essential part of their lives, so much so that the explorer Karl Heider called theirs a ‘culture of string’. “ – Tracing Patterns Foundation.

Plaited orchid fibre. © Tracing Patterns Foundation

Tracing Patterns Foundation is currently cataloguing and conserving a huge number of Dani items, collected by the late Dr O W Hampton in the 1980s. Chris and Sandra will discuss how techniques such as plaiting and knotless netting were used to produce a wide variety of objects. “Large head-nets were important items of dress for women, as well as practical carrying containers. Some of the most interesting and unusual artifacts are stone tools and sacred objects, bound with fibres, feathers from birds of paradise, and other materials. “

This talk will take place at 18:30 BST on Thursday 21 October 2021. Members should have already received their invitations and hopefully registered. Registration is now also open for non-members for a small (£3) donation.This should be a fascinating talk so do join us!

On Friday 22 October Silk Road a newly renovated gallery is due to open at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. It will feature a new exhibition entitled Crossroads: Exploring the Silk Road.

“Presented as a journey through Dunhuang, an ancient oasis connecting peoples and cultures, along the southern Silk Road route, this gallery engages an intergenerational audience through play and discovery. The sights and sounds of the ancient city come to life through stories and music, dress up, tactile objects, an interactive discovery map, and highlights from the museum’s collection. “ – USC Pacific Asia Museum.

Three generations of Qashqa’i women. Photo courtesy of Vedat Karadag.

On Saturday 23 October the Textile Museum will host another of its regular series of Rug and Textile Appreciation mornings. The speaker will be Vedat Karadag and the subject is Traveling the Textile Lands of Greater Anatolia, Persia, Central Asia and Beyond. For the past four decades Vedat has been involved with textiles, both as a dealer and leading cultural and textile-oriented trips. In this virtual talk Vedat will share some of the highlights of his textile travels. More information can be found here. Click on this link to register for this event which begins at 11:00 EDT, which is 16:00 BST.

The most recent edition of our Asian Textiles journal contained an article by Georges Breguet and Gaspard de Marval on Alfred Steinmann and the Ship Motif. This provided an excellent overview of the work of Steinmann, as well as a review of the current exhibition on the subject at the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich.

On Sunday 24 October the Washington-based International Hajji Baba Society will host a programme on Steinmann’s research into the use of the ship motif in Indonesia.

“For many centuries, the people of southern Sumatra saw themselves as living on a ship floating between the sea and the heavens. This idea was woven into fascinating textiles featuring elaborate depictions of ships carrying humans and animal-like beings. These ship cloths were used in ceremonial and ritual contexts. 

Alfred Steinmann, one of the former directors of the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich, was one of the first scientists to study these textiles in depth and to try to interpret them. In several writings that appeared from 1937 to the 1960s, he examined the ship’s motif from a cultural and historical perspective, from the Bronze Age to the present day. He interpreted the elaborately patterned ship cloths as depictions of the passage of dead souls into a land of ancestors. Although later researchers added other layers of interpretation to Steinmann’s, to this day his contribution remains essential for understanding these textiles. “ – IHBS website.

This programme will involve not only a PowerPoint presentation by Paola von Wyss-Giacosa and Andreas Isler, but also a virtual guided tour of the Zurich exhibition – a real treat! Please note that spaces for this virtual event are limited and are filling fast so register now. A catalogue to accompany the exhibition is also now available (German text).

Lydie Bonfils/Arab Image Foundation

Finally, I recently enjoyed reading this article entitled Women Behind the Lens: The Middle East’s First Female Photographers by Tom Verde in AramcoWorld. It shows how women were involved in photography in the Middle East since the middle of the nineteenth century. Some worked behind the scenes, often in the family business, but others took a more prominent role, especially in the field of portraiture as women often felt more at ease sitting for another female.

Upcoming textile events

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A new exhibition has just opened at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London and will run until 26 June 2021. Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China retells one of the largely forgotten histories between Britain and China in the nineteenth century.  

Chinese headdress, comb and slippers from the Gladys Aylward collection. Courtesy of SOAS Special Collections.

“Drawing on several collections using artefacts to explore the history of the Opium Wars through botanical arts and tools; historical artefacts about silk; missionary work and intercultural shared experiences in China recorded by British Missionaries throughout this period. ” – Gallery website.

On Tuesday 25 May 2021 the London-based Oriental Rug and Textile Society will host an online talk by OATG member Maria Wronska-Friend of James Cook University, Queensland. Her subject will be From Sarong to Sari: Rabindranath Tagore’s fascination with the batik of Java. In 1927 Tagore developed an interest in Javanese batik, collecting several dozen examples. On his return to West Bengal “he supported the introduction of the batik technique into the curriculum of the local art school. The new technique has been embraced in Santiniketan with great enthusiasm and resulted in the production of thousands of stunning saris, stoles, fitted garments and decorative fabrics.” – ORTS website. For more details of this talk which begins at 18:00 BST click here.

On Tuesday 2 June 2021 Richard Wilding will give a talk to the Royal Society for Asian Affairs on the Traditional Costumes and Culture of Saudi Arabia. He, along with Hamida Alireza, is co-editor of a recently published book with the same title. “The Mansoojat Foundation is a UK-registered charity founded by Saudi women. The charity is dedicated to the preservation of ethnic Arabian costumes. They conduct research that is vital to our knowledge of the region’s history and culture, and make Arabian heritage accessible to the public. Their workshop in Jeddah offers employment to women with hearing and speech impediments.” – Publisher’s website. Click here to see a sample of several pages from the book.

The webinar will look at how the “costumes and jewellery of Saudi Arabia reveal a great diversity of regional and tribal identities, reflecting the Kingdom’s contrasting urban and rural, settled and nomadic, desert and mountain environments. The Arabian Peninsula sits at the centre of ancient pilgrimage and trade routes, and this has resulted in centuries of influence from textiles, beads and jewellery passing through the region.” It takes place at 14:00 BST and is free, but you do need to register for it.

Child’s Coat with Ducks in Pearl Medallions (detail), 700s. Sogdia (present-day Uzbekistan). Silk; w. 84.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1996.2.1 

Another event taking place on 2 June 2021 is the annual Pauline and Joseph Degenfelder Distinguished Lecture in Chinese Art. This is held by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the speaker this year will be Zhao Feng. His subject will be Chinese Textiles from the Silk Road.

“For centuries, the Silk Road has been an important network of trade routes that has allowed for the exchange of silk and other goods, as well as of ideas and technologies between cultures across Asia and Europe.

Zhao Feng, director of the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, presents recently excavated and conserved silk textiles from sites along the Silk Road. He shares new insight on fibers, dyes, weave structures, tailoring, and pattern designs featured in these textiles and discusses international collaborative initiatives, such as the Interactive Silk Map of the World and the Silk Road Online Museum.” – Cleveland Museum of Art website. The lecture is at 19:00 EDT, which sadly is midnight in the UK, so this is one for the night owls. Register here for this free event.

Drying the fibres. © Kyoto Women’s University, Lifestyle Design Laboratory

Another annual lecture will take place on Saturday 5 June 2021 – this time hosted by the Textile Arts Council. The speaker for this year’s Sinton Lecture will be Kana Taira and her subject is Ryukyu Bashofu: Banana Fiber Textiles of Okinawa.

Bashofu cloth is made from the bast fibers of the Okinawan ito-basho, a variety of banana tree. For centuries this weaving tradition thrived among people of all walks of life on the Okinawan islands. But after World War II, with changes in lifestyle, Bashofu nearly died out. However, in the village of Kijoka, Ogimi, noted for its Bashofu production from before the war, local women led by weaver Toshiko Taira put their passion and dedication into reviving this unique Okinawan weaving tradition. Working together, they established the Kijoka Bashofu Kumiai.(Kijoka Bashofu Association), whose goals were to both revitalize the traditional techniques and to train new generations of weavers. Today the Association produces the renown bashofu kimono and other textile products and trains weavers who come from all over Japan to study there.” – TAC website. Kana Taira is a granddaughter of Toshiko Taira. This online event takes place at 15:00 PDT, which is 22:00 BST. There is s small charge for non-members and you can register via this link.

Kijoka Bashofu thread. From the left: the soft natural colour of basho (banana fibres), dyed yellow with sap tree, and dyed brown with silverberry. © Noboru Morikawa

As is often the case when compiling information for this blog I got sidetracked and started to look for more information on this fascinating subject. I found this article by Noriko Nii on the Visit Okinawa site a useful starting point. I was amazed to learn that it takes the fibres from around two hundred trees to weave the cloth for one kimono! On the website of the Bashofu Hall I discovered some of the other ways the plant is utilised. “The surface fiber has long been used in the production of banana paper, which has recently enjoyed a surge of use for bouquets, bookmarks, papercraft, and more. The outer husk of the fiber, which is unsuitable for yarn, is called shīsāū and is an essential part of the lion masks used in the traditional lion dance performed throughout Okinawa. The fiber is used to create strands of hair to adorn the lion heads, so it is ordered in large quantities each year. The plant is also burned to create a charcoal that is used as a glaze for earthenware, among other uses. “

I would also highly recommend taking a look at this online exhibition on these textiles and the way they are produced. It was created by Ikeda Yuuka and Ueyama Emiko of the Kyoto Women’s University and has some stunning images to complement the text.

Next to a textile event which is taking place in real life – not on a screen! Many of you will be familiar with the World Textile Days which take place at various UK locations throughout the year. The pandemic put a stop to those for some time, but they are restarting next month. The first will be on Saturday 5 June 2021 from 10:00 – 16:00 in Frodsham, Cheshire. Due to Covid restrictions there will not be a talk at this event, nor any catering. However visitors are welcome to take their own food and drink and there will be space provided to consume it. These are always really fun events, with textiles available from a range of traders, including The African Fabric Shop, Textile Traders, Susan Briscoe, The Running Stitches, Fabazaar and Experience Ukraine. Full details here.

OATG members David and Sue Richardson have just added a new section to their Asian Textile Studies website, this time looking at Cambodian kiet textiles. The article looks at historical examples of Cham clothing and various resist-dyeing techniques before examining different types of Cham kiet – from the very simple to the complex.

Carpet with poetry verses, 1550-1600, Iran. Silk warp and weft, knotted wool pile, areas brocaded with metal thread. 231 x 165 cm. V&A: T.402-1910. Bequeathed by George Salting

In my most recent blog I wrote about the Epic Iran exhibition which opens at the V&A in London on 29 May 2021. I explained that Sarah Piram, Curator of the Iranian collections at the V & A, will give an online talk to the OATG next month. This talk will give an overview of some major works, from early silk fragments showing roundels of animals, to Safavid carpets and contemporary craft tradition. Textiles and carpets will be showcased in different parts of the exhibition, and I’m sure one of the highlights will be the ‘Sanguszko’ carpet belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry – one of the greatest seventeenth century Persian carpets in private hands. This talk will take place on 10 June at 18:30 BST. OATG members should already have received their invitations, and registration is now also open non-members through this link.

Some of the ryijys on show

Unfortunately I have only just found out about this exhibition which opened at the Kunsthalle, Helsinki in February and ends this Sunday 23 May 2021. “The exhibition Woven Beauty – Four centuries of Finnish ryijy textiles presents a wide and diverse selection of ryijys that shows their richness as well as their many shapes, textures and patterns that have changed over time. The ryijy has seen many colourful phases in its history and recent times, always returning in new forms to carry on its lively tradition for new generations. Kunsthalle Helsinki will exhibit ryijys from over 300 years. The selection of around 130 ryijys includes traditional types from the 18th and 19th centuries such as bridal and tree of life motifs, modern artistic ryijys from the 1960s, as well as new ryijys from recent years that exemplify a diversity of materials.” – museum website.

Thankfully there is a short video which enables us to see some of the ryijys on show and learn a little more about them. The presentation is in English.

There are so many great textile events coming up that I have had to split them across two blogs – part two coming soon…….