News: Spring-cleaning India’s Most Magnificent Tent

For those of you who might have missed it, Asian textiles got into the news last month when a royal Rajasthani tent was cleaned for the first time in over three hundred years. A totally unique textile, made in imperial workshops from red silk velvet and gold, unfurled it stands four metres high – as high as a London double-decker bus. It’s known as the Lal Dera, or the Shahi Lal Dera – the Royal Red Tent, and is believed to have been the home of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal.

To read the article in full, visit the BBC website.

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.

Exhibition: Chintz – Cotton in Bloom

Exhibition dates: 11 March – 10 September 2017

The Museum of Friesland in Leeuwarden presents a major exhibition of its extensive and well-preserved collection of chintz: the shiny, floral, hand-painted cotton from India that conquered sixteenth-century Europe. The beautiful patterns feel familiar while at the same time convey a special story. Objects displayed range from skirts, jackets, sun hats and regional clothing to wall hangings and blankets. The exhibition Chintz  Cotton in Bloom takes the visitor on a journey from India to Hindeloopen, Indonesia and Japan.

Chintz  Cotton in Bloom shows the wide variety of colourful floral patterns on skirts and jackets, as well as huge wapenpalempores (bedspreads larger than 3.5 x 2.5 metres with a coat of arms). The regional clothing demonstrates how the chintz was cherished and preserved. The visitor discovers the special techniques of this craft and how chintz played an important role in the world in the seventeenth century. In addition, the exhibition shows that chintz still inspires new initiatives in the field of handicrafts. Together with the Textiel Factorij, the Museum of Friesland presents contemporary works by Dutch artists and designers made with Indian craftsmen.

For more information, visit the website of the Fries Museum, Netherlands.

Events: Tales from the Road – Searching for the Vernacular Furniture of Rajasthan

Event date: Wednesday 28 June 2017, 6pm

SADACC (South Asian Decorative Arts & Crafts Collection) in Norwich has been collaborating with the Design Innovation and Craft Resource Center (DICRC), CEPT University, Ahmedabad, on the first ever survey of the vernacular furniture in Rajasthan. In this event, Ben Cartwright, Collection Curator for SADACC and Mansi Sathyanarayan, Project Team Leader, DICRC, CEPT University, will share their fieldwork experiences, their tales from the road in Rajasthan.

The fieldwork team have travelled to villages, towns and cities in a state that is over two and a half times the size of England. They have been invited into the homes of Rajasthani royalty and Adivasi farmers alike, walked through fields and deserts, and met with carpenters, potters and local mudwork makers. Wherever they have gone, they have been invited across the threshold to look at pieces of vernacular furniture and to chat about the lifestyles they enable – a study of vernacular furniture is very much a study of the people who use it. Every object contains the story of a craftsman, an individual or family, the community and the landscape.

Rajasthan, the state of kings, deserts, painted havelis and walled cities is famous for its textiles, music, landscape and architecture. But it is also home to an incredible variety of traditional furniture. There are public benches that have given their name to the debates village elders hold on them, chests with elaborate locking mechanisms shrouded in secrecy and handed down by the head of the house at the point of death, intricately painted pieces from palace collections through to the crude wooden mattress stands and mudwork grain stores found in poor rural homes.

It has been the job of the fieldwork team to try and discover these stories. Next week, they will be sharing their experiences – what it was like to stay with royalty in Shekhawati or visit the outlands close to Banswara. Join us for a behind the scenes introduction to the Vernacular Furniture of N.W. India project.

Entry is free and refreshments will be provided.

To find out more about SADACC, visit their website.

Please RSVP by Friday 23 June to info@sadacc.co.uk, or phone 01603 663890.

Exhibition: Phulkari – The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection

Exhibition dates: 12 March – 9 July 2017

Discover the beauty and cultural significance of phulkari, ornately embroidered textiles from Punjab, a region straddling Pakistan and India. In addition to stunning examples from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection, this exhibition features traditional phulkaris from the museum’s collection and high-fashion ensembles by one of India’s leading designers, Manish Malhotra.

Phulkari, meaning ‘flower work’, is a labour-intensive textile made of vibrant silk embroidery on a plain-woven cotton cloth. Deeply rooted in Punjabi life before the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan (which split the Punjab region), this tradition has become a powerful symbol of Punjabi cultural identity.

Usually worn by women as large shawls on special occasions, phulkaris were also made as blankets or as furniture covers or hangings. Women of many religious groups – Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs (who consider the Punjab their holy land) – stitched phulkaris, with young girls learning needlework from older female relatives and friends. They often created the embroideries for their dowry, which they brought to their new homes when they married.

Some phulkaris depict animals and village scenes, while others display complex geometric patterns in bold colors conveying good fortune and social status. Whether figurative or geometric, all are rich in symbolism: after the 1947 partition, phulkari textiles became an important symbol for the new nation of Pakistan.

Over the past half century, phulkari techniques and patterns have experienced a revival, especially as a commercial art. As an emblem of pre-partition village life, phulkaris have been celebrated in popular music and videos. More recently, this folk tradition has entered the realm of high fashion through designers such as Manish Malhotra, who recently created a phulkari-based couture collection.

For more information, visit the website of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Event: Colourful Banjara Textiles from the British Museum’s Reserve Collection at Blythe House, Olympia

Event date: Wednesday 19 April 2017, 2.00 pm – 3.00 pm

The Banjara are a semi-nomadic people who, prior to the construction of roads and railways, provided long-distance bullock caravans of goods across India. They are known for their vibrant clothing and domestic textiles in shades of rich yellow ochre and red madder decorated by mirrors, embroidery, applique and shells. This event will be presented by the British Museum’s T. Richard Blurton, Head of the South and Southeast Asia Section, and textile gallery owner (and OATG member), Joss Graham.

See Asian Textiles magazine #64 (June 2016) for a review of a new book on the Banjara: Textiles of the Banjara.

Event location: Blythe House, Olympia, London (more details on access provided when booking).

Please note that numbers for this event are strictly limited and advanced registration is essential. Places will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.

For more information, and to register for your place, visit the Eventbrite page.

News: SADACC Trust Project – India and Pakistan Remembered

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The SADACC Trust (based in Norwich, UK) is seeking participants to be interviewed for the India and Pakistan Remembered 2017 project.

To coincide with the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence, the SADACC Trust is embarking on an exciting oral history project. We will be interviewing people who have lived in India or Pakistan, or whose relatives lived there in the past.

We want to hear about your memories or family stories of life in India and Pakistan (whether recent or centuries ago). In particular, we are interested in learning about objects, heirlooms or keepsakes from the subcontinent that are still attached to, or seem to contain these memories. In discovering how objects help to relate people to events in the past, we hope to better understand what memories the objects in The South Asia Collection might evoke in visitors to the museum.

The India and Pakistan Remembered 2017 project will create an archive of recorded interviews about people’s memories (whether their own or stories they have inherited) of life in India and Pakistan. The interviews will also contribute to an exhibition – ‘India and Pakistan Remembered’ – and accompanying publications.

If you are interested or would like more information, please contact our Collection Curator Ben Cartwright at info@sadacc.co.uk or phone 01603 663890.

Participants are encouraged to bring objects (or photographs of those objects) which evoke stories of life in either India or Pakistan to interview sessions. We hope to explore how these objects spark memories of certain people, places and events in the past.

By agreeing to be involved, you will be a unique voice contributing to a better understanding of the history of India and Pakistan through lived experiences.

Please circulate this message to anyone you feel would be interested in being interviewed.

Exhibition: Lockwood Kipling – Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London

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Exhibition dates: 14 January – 2 April 2017

Explore the life, work and lasting impact of John Lockwood Kipling (1837–1911), an artist, teacher, curator and influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. Lockwood Kipling was a social campaigner for the preservation of the Indian crafts, a craftsman whose terracotta panels can still be seen on the exterior of the V&A and an illustrator of books by his son, the renowned writer Rudyard Kipling.  This exhibition uncovers the history of the V&A’s collections through the life of Lockwood Kipling who played a significant role in shaping the foundation collection.  Highlights include paintings of the Indian section of the Great Exhibition, designs and illustrations for books, and furniture designed for royal residences Bagshot Park and Osborne.

For more information, visit the website of the V&A Museum, London.

Event: Deeper than Indigo – Jenny Balfour Paul speaks at the Pitt Rivers Museum

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Event date: Wednesday 16 November, 6 pm

Jenny Balfour Paul (of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University) will give an illustrated account of her adventures in the heartlands of India’s Raj, Polynesia, the South China Seas and Arabia, in search of Thomas Machell, indigo planter and explorer, whose remarkable journals she found in the British Library.

This event promises to be quite popular.  The maximum capacity of the Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Room is 70 and, rather than have to turn people away on the evening, the Friends of the Pitt Rivers have decided to set up a booking system.  Tickets are free of charge, but you do need to reserve your place.

Location: Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Room, Oxford

To book your free place at this event, visit the Eventbrite booking page.

Exhibition: Art and Stories from Mughal India

Cleveland Museum - Art and Stories from Mughal India

Exhibition dates: 31 July – 23 October 2016

The Mughal Empire existed for more than 300 years, from the early 1500s until the arrival of British colonial rule in 1857, encompassing territory that included vast portions of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan. The Mughal rulers were Central Asian Muslims who assimilated many religious faiths under their administration. Famed for its distinctive architecture, including the Taj Mahal, the Mughal Empire is also renowned for its colourful and engaging paintings. Many of these take the form of narrative tales that not only delight the eye but also reveal fascinating ways in which the empire’s diverse cultural traditions found their way into royal creative expressions.

The centennial exhibition Art and Stories from Mughal India focuses on four stories – an epic, a fable, a mystic romance and a sacred biography – embedded within the overarching story of the Mughals themselves as told through 100 paintings drawn from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s world-class holdings. Many works from the museum’s recent landmark acquisition of the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection are exhibited here and published in a companion volume for the first time. Rounding out the exhibition is a selection of costumes, textiles, jewellery, arms and armour, architectural elements, and decorative arts on loan from museums across the United States.

For more information, visit the website of the Cleveland Museum of Art, USA.