Rugs and textiles from Greece, Morocco, Iran and Japan.

A final reminder that the next OATG talk will be this Thursday, 13 May 2021 at 18:30 BST, when Dr Francesca Leoni of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford will speak on the subject of Drawing with Silk: Greek Island Embroideries in the Ashmolean Museum. This talk will explore the visual richness and technical sophistication of eighteenth and nineteenth century Greek embroideries, as well as their debt to the many artistic traditions that flourished around the Mediterranean. It is based on the exhibition Mediterranean Threads – Greek Embroideries 1700 – 1900 AD, which Dr Leoni curated. An online interactive version of the exhibition is available here.

Detail from a cushion cover. Crete 17th-18th century
Linen, cotton and silk EA2004.6

Dr Leoni gave a lecture on this topic at the weekend to a US textile group and I’ve heard lots of great feedback about it. OATG members should already have received their invitation to this talk, but still need to register for it. It is also open to non-members for a small donation. Click here for more details. Don’t forget – one of the many advantages of becoming a member of the OATG is that you have access to recordings of the lectures, so if you can’t attend for any reason you don’t miss out.

Bou Oumlil, 2015

In a blog last month I wrote about the Crafting Conversations: Discourses on the Craft Heritage of the Islamic World – Past, Present and Future series of discussions hosted online by the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto. In Deconstructing the Code: Craft Collaborations in Morocco  French-Moroccan artist Sara Ouhaddou was in conversation with Dr Mariam Rosser-Owen, Curator of the Middle East section at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Sara and Mariam covered a variety of topics, including her past projects working with female weavers in the Atlas Mountains and with young female embroiderers in Tetouan. For those who missed it a recording of this event has now been made available and can be viewed here. A full playlist of all of the talks in the Crafting Conversations series can be found here.

While on the subject of Morocco, Roger Pratt of the Hajji Baba Club in New York gave a presentation in June last year on Rugs and Textiles of Morocco. This was hosted by the George Washington Museum and Textile Museum as part of their regular Rug and Textile Appreciation sessions. Presented in the form of a travelogue Roger journeyed “through a number of rarely seen private collections, highlighting Berber weavings, contemporary rugs, and historical silk embroideries and workshop production.” – GWM website. A recording of this talk is available here.

Aba, male robe, before 1877, Kashan, Iran. Museum no. 883-1877. Museum no. 883-1877. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A major new exhibition entitled Epic Iran is opening at the V & A in London on 29 May. “Exploring 5,000 years of art, design and culture, Epic Iran will shine a light on one of the greatest historic civilisations, its journey into the 21st century and its monumental artistic achievements, which remain unknown to many.” – V & A website. A short overview of the exhibition contents and themes is provided here. However to get a more comprehensive idea of what the exhibition contains I suggest reading this article from Asian Art Newspaper.

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

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. Invitations to the talk, which will take place on 10 June at 18:30 BST, will go out to OATG members at the end of this week. Registration is essential, and will open to non-members a week after members. I will provide links and further details later on.

Camel chest band (detail), Qashqa’i people. Collection of Fred Mushkat

Staying on the subject of Iran, Fred Mushkat, author of Weavings of Nomads in Iran: Warp-faced Bands and Related Textiles, recently gave a talk about the Weavings of Nomads in Iran as part of the Textile Museum Rug and Textile Appreciation series. “Warp-faced bands, containers and covers are among the rarest and least studied of all weavings made by nomads in Iran…… In this illustrated talk, collector and researcher Fred Mushkat [provided] an introduction to these weavings, focusing on different warp-faced structures, how and why these structures were used, which nomads made them and how to distinguish one nomadic group’s work from another.  ” – Textile Museum website. The talk was recorded and you can now watch it by clicking on this link.   You may also be interested in a blog I wrote in February on Nomads and their culture in Iran and Kazakhstan, which gave links to several articles and books on this subject.

Photo courtesy: CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile), Hong Kong

And finally something completely different! Aimèe Payton has informed me that a new exhibition, MAKING NUNO Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudō Reiko, will open on 17 May at Japan House London. This exhibition “showcases the innovative work of Japanese textile designer Sudō Reiko, who is renowned for pushing boundaries of textile production and championing new methods of sustainable manufacturing.” There is an interesting article about this artist in Design Week by Molly Long. Describing one of the installations she writes ”  Kibiso Crisscross, a collaborative project with the Tsuruoka Textile Makers Cooperative, showcases the process that the team developed to reuse discarded kibiso, the protective outer layer of silk cocoons. A machine that takes these tough remnants and creates yarns from them. The idea is to create “no waste and use everything”, according to the designer.”

If you are aware of interesting textile-related talks and exhibitions that could be added to this blog please do let me know! I can be contacted here.

Nomads and their culture in Iran and Kazakhstan

First a reminder that there are a LOT of talks about textiles coming up in the next ten days! Subjects include American Coverlets for Rug Lovers, Asia: Continuing Textile Tradition, Rugs of the Golden Triangle, Jain temple and shrine hangings, Asian Textiles in Portuguese Collections, and Kesa robes in Japan. Full details of all of these talks and links to register for them can be found in my previous blog.

Image courtesy of IMDB

Next Wednesday, 24 February, the London-based Oriental Rug and Textile Society (ORTS) will be screening a 1976 film entitled People of the Wind about Bakhtiari migrations. This film is a sequel to Grass, a classic silent film made in 1925 by three Americans who made their way across Turkey and Iraq to meet the Bakhtiari in their winter quarters and follow them and their flocks over swollen rivers and up over snow-covered mountain passes to reach their summer pastures.  Following the same route with descendants of the same people, People of the Wind shows what has changed and what has stayed the same over the intervening decades.

“There are two hundred miles of raging rivers and dangerous mountains to cross. There are no towns, no roads, no bridges. There is no turning back. The Bakhtiari migration is one of the most hazardous tests of human endurance known to mankind. Every year, 500,000 men, women and children – along with one million animals – struggle for eight gruelling weeks to scale the massive Zagros Mountains in Iran – a range which is as high as the Alps and as broad as Switzerland – to reach their summer pastures. The film’s astonishing widescreen photography and brilliantly recorded soundtrack take the viewer out onto the dangerous precipices of the Zardeh Kuh mountain and into the icy waters of the Cholbar River.” – Fiona Kelleghan.

Antony Wynn wearing elements of Bakhtiari dress

The film will be presented by Antony Wynn, author of Three Camels to Smyrna, who lived in rural Iran for many years. The film will be shown via a Zoom link at 1800 GMT. ORTS members will automatically receive a link. Non-members are also very welcome to view this and should send an email to receive their link to the event.

A short trailer for this Academy-award nominated documentary can be viewed here.

Spindle bag, ca. 1935. Western Iran, Bakhtiari tribe. ©Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 2017-18 the Metropolitan Museum held an exhibition on woven containers entitled Portable Storage: Tribal Weavings from the Collection of William and Inger Ginsberg.  This looked at the bags not only as textiles, but also how they are used, who made them, the techniques they used etc. The section on the tribes gives more information about the Bakhtiari (and others), as well as some great examples of their textiles.

Camel chest band (detail), Qashqa’i people. Collection of Fred Mushkat.

Those interested in learning more about the weavings of the nomadic peoples of Iran might be interested in signing up for this event hosted by the Textile Museum on 24 April at 11:00 EDT which is 16:00 in the UK. Fred Mushkat, author of Weavings of Nomads in Iran: Warp-faced Bands and Related Textiles, “will provide an introduction to these weavings, focusing on different warp-faced structures, how and why these structures were used, which nomads made them and how to distinguish one nomadic group’s work from another. ” – Textile Museum website.

A nomadic family during their migration. © Newsha Tavakolian

Why Iran’s nomads are fading away, with text by Thomas Erdbrink and wonderful photographs by Newsha Tavakolian, is a very thought-provoking article on the difficulties faced by Iranian nomads today.

There are over a million nomads in Iran, and for many years they have followed a traditional lifestyle which involved moving their animals along ancient routes to cool pastures in the Zagreb mountains every spring. Now many transport their belongings on trucks instead of horseback. The number of black tents being set up in the pastures is dwindling year on year as young people sell off their flocks and move to the towns. One of the main reasons for this change seems to be the desire for education. As one woman put it “I won’t let my daughters marry a nomad,” she said. “Our lifestyle is horrible. I want them to live in a city and study.” Do click through the slideshow near the beginning of the article for extra images and information.

Turning now to a different group of nomads, I found this interview with Alun Thomas, author of Nomads and Soviet Rule, Central Asia under Lenin and Stalin, fascinating. In his book Dr Thomas “shows how Soviet policy was informed by both an anti-colonial spirit and an imperialist impulse, by nationalism as well as communism, and above all by a lethal self-confidence in the Communist Party’s ability to transform the lives of nomads and harness the agricultural potential of their landscape.” I was particularly struck by his statement (in the interview) that “The nomadic tendency to migrate made some land seem unoccupied or under-utilized, but to nomads, this land was essential to their wellbeing. In contrast, the Soviet Union took its borders very seriously, but for nomads, these borders were trivial annoyances at best and obstacles to their survival at worst.” It reminded me of another book I read several years ago which lingered long in the memory.

That book was The Silent Steppe by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov. This autobiography traces the life of the author from a young boy as a Kazakh nomad under Stalin to middle age, and how his life changed when his father was blacklisted as a kulak. I remember being struck by his shock when he was told he could no longer attend school. A very good review of this book by Georgia de Chamberet can be found here.

 A group of women and children in a yurt. S.M. Dudin. 1899. Kazakhstan, Semipalatinsk Oblast (Saumal-kul). MAE RAS ©МАЭ РАН 2021

Finally, Voices on Central Asia has an interesting article by Snezhana Atanova entitled Along the Route of Samuil Dudin’s Expedition: Clothing, Yurt and Decorative-Applied Art of the Kazakhs of the late 19th Century. In it we get to understand more of the nomadic lifestyle of the Kazakhs – a lifestyle that was soon under threat with 48% of the livestock in Kazakhstan dying in the winter of 1931, and 1.2 million people dying of starvation in the great famine of 1932-34. There are some excellent photographs, showing many aspects of Kazakh material culture, to accompany the text.

Event: The Dark Side of the Textile Trade – From the Silk Road to Today

 

Event date: Saturday 18 August 2018, 10am

Throughout history, textiles have always been one of the most valued components of international trade. Therefore, both individuals and states have sought to profit from this trade in both illegal and immoral ways. The problem of counterfeit products is not new, but was already an issue centuries ago, when British traders flooded the Venetian market with their products labelled “Made in Venice.” When cochineal was the most valuable product out of the New World, many pirates and traders sought to acquire cochineal and break the Spanish monopoly. The photo above shows strands from Persian rugs from Iran which had heroin woven into them.

This survey of illicit trade will discuss the abuses of the textile trade for both commercial and political objectives. Dr. Louise Shelley will reveal a largely unknown story of crime and often state-sponsored criminal trade. Dr Shelley is a University Professor at George Mason University, and Director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC), Washington, D.C. and a board member of the DC Hajji Baba Society.

This event is part of the regular programme of interesting talks hosted by the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California, Inc and will be held at

Luther Hall, Lower Level St. Bede’s Episcopal Church

3590 Grand View Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90066-1904

This is just south of the 10 freeway, and west of the 405, near the intersection of Centinela and Palms and there is free parking. This event is free for members and $10 for non-members.

Exhibition: A Tale of Two Persian Carpets (One by One) – The Ardabil and Coronation Carpets

Exhibition dates: 17 September 2017 – 8 July 2018

Dating to the first half of the sixteenth century, LACMA’s two spectacular Persian carpets, both the gift of J. Paul Getty, have only rarely been exhibited due in part to their size and sensitivity to light. Now, these large and sumptuous carpets will be shown sequentially, affording visitors the opportunity to see two of the world’s most renowned Persian carpets and to learn of their fascinating history before and after they left Iran. The Ardabil carpet will be on view from 17 September 2017 – 19 February 2018, and the Coronation carpet will be exhibited from 24 February – 8 July 2018.

The large number of carpets surviving from sixteenth-century Iran compared to earlier periods reflects not only a high level of carpet production but also perhaps a change in the nature of their manufacture. During this period, carpet weaving evolved from a rural, nomadic craft to a national industry and an internationally acclaimed art form, as the first shahs of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1732) established royal factories in cities such as Tabriz, Kashan, Kirman and Isfahan. The two great Persian carpets presented here belong to this period of cultural, political and religious flowering.

For more information, visit the website of LACMA, Los Angeles, USA.

Event: A Show and Tell of Tribal and Village Weavings from Iran and Central Asia

Legge Carpets webpage

Event date: Monday 18 July 2016

Oxford Asian Textile Group have organised a show and tell evening in Oxford with Angela and Christopher Legge of tribal and village weavings from Iran and Central Asia. There are 15 places available for this event. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to oatg.events@gmail.com to confirm your place.

Location: Legge Carpets & Textiles, 25 Oakthorpe Road, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7BD.
Time: Arrival from 7.15pm to start at 7.30pm.
Free for members, £3 for non-members.

For more information about Legge Carpets, please visit their website.

Exhibition: Muhammad Shah’s Royal Persian Tent

Cleveland Museum of Art - Muhammad Shah's Royal Persian Tent

Exhibition dates: 26 July 2015 – 26 June 2016

The Cleveland Museum of Art has acquired a spectacular imperial tent created for Muhammad Shah, who ruled Iran from 1834–1848 during the Qajar dynasty. The interior of the round tent is lavishly decorated with inlaid brilliantly coloured woollen cloth embellished with silk thread embroidery. The tent is the centerpiece of a special focus exhibition in the museum’s Arlene M. and Arthur S. Textile Gallery, which began this week.

The tent retains its complete ceiling; seven of the original fourteen wall panels form a semicircle so that visitors can see and be surrounded by the ornate interior. Each wall panel is decorated with a single large vase of exuberant blossoms set between robust birds on a rocky mound under a niche with blossoming vines. The roof panels display similar birds flanking the base of two blossoming branches. The exterior, in contrast, is typically covered with a plain cotton cloth.

At Islamic courts, tents were symbols of royal power and wealth – pitched for imperial ceremonies, travel and military campaigns and presented as luxurious gifts. Wealthy dynasties owned thousands of tents in various sizes and shapes. The exhibition will not only be the first time the tent has been publicly displayed, it will also include portraits of the owner and royal family and images of courtly life that will give visitors a sense of the rich context in which tents like this were commissioned and used.

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