Textiles from Japan, Africa, Bolivia, Tibet, Iran……..

Good news! Some museums are now reopening. Among these is the Östasiatiska Museet in Stockholm.

Their current exhibition, which runs until 15 August 2021, is entitled Boro – The Art of Necessity. On show will be a unique collection of boro objects loaned from the Amuse Museum in Tokyo, as well as newly produced works by Swedish artists. “Ripped, worn, patched and lovingly mended. Boro textiles tell us about the art of surviving on scarce resources in a harsh place. In northern Japan, the winters are cold and the population has historically been poor. Here, among farmers and fishermen, a distinctive female craft was developed in which nothing went to waste.” – museum website.

I like the fact that the textiles have been displayed in such a way that the viewer can see all sides clearly.

Another new exhibition opens in London on Granary Square, King’s Cross on 8 April 2021. This outdoor photography exhibition is called The Silk Road: A Living History . Over 160 images are used to document a journey along this historic trade route undertaken by the photographer in 2019.

Tajik girl dancing in the Pamir mountains. © Christopher Wilton-Steer.

“The exhibition’s linear design creates a physical route for the viewer offering them the chance to travel by proxy…… The show aims to celebrate the diversity of cultural expressions found along the Silk Road, highlight examples of how historical practices, rituals and customs live on today, and also reveal some of the connections between what appear at first glance to be very different cultures. It also seeks to engender interest and understanding between distant cultures and challenge perceptions of less well known and understood parts of the world. Photographs from Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, China and elsewhere will feature in the show. Visitors will be able to access additional content including videos and music via QR codes on each panel of the exhibition.” – Christopher Wilton-Steer. The exhibition runs until 16 June 2021.

Outer-kimono for a young woman (uchikake), 1800 – 30, probably Kyoto, Japan. © Image Courtesy of the Joshibi University of Art and Design Art Museum

Registrations are now open for non-members for the OATG’s next exciting talk (£3 donation) which will take place on Thursday 22 April 2021 at 18:30 BST, which should also work out for our many members in the US. The speaker will be Anna Jackson, Keeper of the Asian department at the V&A and curator of their blockbuster exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk. In this talk Anna will take us on a fascinating journey from the sophisticated culture of seventeenth century Kyoto to the contemporary catwalk and reveal some of the stories behind the exhibition. 

Anna also wrote the introduction to Thomas Murray’s book Textiles of Japan (see my blog of December 2019). In an interview with Jess Cartner-Morley for The Guardian she said her aim in this exhibition was to “overturn the idea of the kimono as static, atrophied object and show it as a dynamic and constantly evolving icon of fashion”. She also discussed the history of the kimono, and cultural appropriation. This is well worth a read to whet your appetite for the talk. In another interview for LOVE magazine Anna talks about the difficulty of acquiring some of the pieces, their fragility, and the challenges in displaying them correctly. The exhibition was in three sections. “It begins by unpicking the social significance and heritage of the kimono in 17th century Japan, moving to consider the kimono and its position across a more international agenda, finishing with the progressive transformation of its comtemporary (sic) identity.” Scarlett Baker, LOVE magazine.

This is certain to be a very popular talk so I strongly suggest you register for it as soon as possible via this link. If you are enjoying our programme of talks why not consider becoming a member?

“Furisode with Wave and Crane Design, Made for Nishimura Tokuko, the fourteenth Madame Nishimura” by Chiso Co., Ltd, 1938. Yuzen-dyeing and embroidery on woven silk.

Those with a serious interest in kimono will be delighted to hear of not one, but two more exhibitions dedicated to that topic, both at the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts. The first of these is an online exhibition entitled Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso. This exhibition is organised by the Worcester Art Museum in partnership with Chiso, a 465-year-old kimono design and production house based in Kyoto, Japan. I highly recommend spending some time ‘visiting’ this exhibition. It is divided into eleven parts, covering topics such as design, symbolism and decorative techniques. Clicking on each part will bring up much more information and a video.

Itō Shinsui (1898–1972), Woman with Marumage Hairstyle, 1924, Publisher: Watanabe Shōzaburō, color woodblock print on mica (kirazuri) ground, Gift of Edward Kenway, 1960.7

The second exhibition opened on 6 February 2021 and will end on 2 May 2021. It is entitled The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design and looks at the kimono as a source of design and inspiration through seventy prints. “Print artists from 17th to 20th -century Japan documented ever-evolving trends in fashion, popularized certain styles of dress, and even designed kimonos. The works begin with early prints from the late 17th century, when a more complex and sophisticated attitude towards clothing first appeared, as seen in the lavish prints of the floating world’s celebrity kabuki actors and courtesans. Modern design books and prints from the early 20th century, inspired by or made for kimono, demonstrate how the boundaries between print and textile fashion and design became more fluid.” – museum website. Monika Bincsik of the Metropolitan Museum of Art will give an online talk entitled Kimono Fashion in Kyoto at 18:00 EDT on Thursday 15 April. That works well for our US members, but UK members should note that this starts at 23:00 BST!

An interesting article by Karla Klein Albertson giving the background to these two exhibitions appeared in Antiques and the Arts Weekly. Another very detailed article just looking at the prints appeared in Asian Art newspaper.

Image: Bisa Butler, Broom Jumpers, 2019. Cotton, silk, wool and velvet, 221 cm x 132.7 cm.

In my most recent blog I wrote about an event on 7 April hosted by Selvedge, which has a panel of speakers looking at the subject of African wax prints. They have now added the extraordinary quilt artist Bisa Butler to the list of speakers for that event. Click here for full details and how to book. A reminder that two events linked to the upcoming Chintz exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum take place online on 8th and 9th April – see my previous blog for full details.

Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw artist Meghann O’Brien wearing the Sky Blanket she wove from mountain goat wool

Next Thursday, 8 April 2021 the Fowler Museum will host a conversation with artist Meghann O’Brien and textile scholar Elena Phipps about Indigenous knowledge and creative practice. “Meghann O’Brien is a Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw artist whose Chilkat textiles are based on the knowledge and artistic practices of her ancestors. Her projects engage specialized techniques of basketry and weaving, and use mountain goat wool, cedar bark, and other earthly materials to connect to the rhythms and patterns of the natural world. With these materials, she explores issues related to Indigenous fashion and couture, reframing the past and applying it to present-day life. ” – Fowler Museum.

This event takes place at 11:00 PDT , which is 19:00 in the UK. It is free, but you do need to register for it. There is also an interesting article in Mountain Life Media, which gives more background into how Meghann began weaving and the creation of her Sky Blanket. The short video shows how the blanket moves when worn.

© Cheri Hunter

On Saturday 10 April Cheri Hunter, the dynamic President of the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California, will be the speaker at their next event. Her topic will be the Textiles, Costumes & Pile Trappings of the Eastern Grasslands of Tibet. Cheri’s background is in film editing in Hollywood and she certainly brings that artistic eye to her photography. She has written many articles with photo-spreads for Hali. This illustrated talk “will emphasize both the local and imported textiles, costumes and pile horse trappings in use throughout the Kham and Amdo grasslands, as well as in shaman rituals and horse competitions, where all of the participants, including the horses, are dressed in their finest…… Please note that this program is a cultural travelogue rather than a scholarly program, with an emphasis on the textiles, costumes and horse trappings worn in festivals.” – Cheri Hunter. The talk takes place at 10:00 PDT, which is 18:00 in the UK. More details and registration here.

The Andean Textile Arts organisation will be hosting a talk on 13 April entitled Renewing Value in Southern Bolivia’s Textiles. The speaker will be Kevin Healy, who will introduce the audience to Antropologos del Surandino (ASUR). “ASUR is a Bolivian cultural foundation that has pioneered efforts to revitalize the Andean textile traditions in southern Bolivia. Since the late 1980s, ASUR has developed community-based programs that provide a way for the region’s rural indigenous weavers to continue creating and producing their beautiful Andean designs. Kevin will discuss how ASUR ’s work has provided a commercial outlet for the weavers in the capital city of Sucre, while also establishing a textile museum visited by multitudes of Bolivian schoolchildren and national and foreign tourists.” – ATA. The talk begins at 19:00 EDT, which is midnight in the UK – one for the night owls!

Carpets in the Bardini Museum, Florence

Next, one for the carpet lovers. On Thursday 15 April the New York-based Hajji Baba Club will host Alberto Boralevi who will talk about Stefano Bardini and the International Carpet Trade at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Bardini was an Italian antiques dealer based in Florence who handled many historical carpets, building up relationships with prominent collectors and museums. Twenty-two such carpets are housed in the Museo Stefano Bardini in Florence. The Bardini archives have a collection of over six thousand original negatives which show most of the objects which passed through his hands. To register for this talk, which takes place at 11:00 EDT (16:00 BST), please contact Elisabeth Parker, Vice-President of the Hajji Baba Club, using this form.

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

On Saturday 24 April Fred Mushkat, author of Weavings of Nomads in Iran: Warp-faced Bands and Related Textiles, will 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 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. Mushkat will also explore design repertoire, function and the importance of these textiles to the women who made them. ” – Textile Museum website. The talk takes place at 11:00 EDT which is 16:00 BST and you can register for it here.   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.

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.

Exhibition: Portable Storage: Tribal Weavings from the Collection of William and Inger Ginsberg

Exhibition dates: 25 September 2017 – 7 May 2018, New York

 

Woven bags carried by nomads in the Middle East were designed to contain all of the necessities of life, from bedding to salt. This exhibition highlights 19 distinctly patterned examples of woven bags from nomadic cultures in Iran, Turkey, and the Caucasus, along with one striking pile-woven saddle cover. Featuring geometric patterns as well as stylised floral and animal motifs, these textiles are both utilitarian and expressive of a highly sophisticated tribal aesthetic.  The exhibition also includes an Islamic painting from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection that illustrates bags and trappings in use in traditional society.

For more information visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum

Event: Living with the Shahsevan – A talk by Richard Tapper for ORTS

 

Event date: Wednesday 19 April 2017, 6–9 pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Richard says: “I lived among Shahsevan nomads in the 1960s, when their weavings were almost unknown, or commonly labelled ‘Kurdish’ or ‘Qarabagh’. I visited them again briefly in 1968, 1973, and then in 1993 and 1995 – by which time of course their weavings were very well-known, and production had been widely commercialised. I shall describe life among the nomads, give some background to their history, and some details on the weaving that I observed, all illustrated with slides from the field.”
R.L. Tapper, MA PhD, is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology with reference to the Middle East.

The talk will be held at St James Conference Room, 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL.

The Conference Room entrance is in the Church Place passageway, which runs between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly.  There is a wrought iron gate signed ‘Church Hall Conference Room’ leading downstairs.  Drinks and snacks will be served.

Piccadilly Circus tube is 5 minutes’ walk, and Green Park Tube is 10 minutes’ walk.  There is free parking in St James Square after 6.30pm.

Please note this is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event, but non-members are welcome to attend: £7 single lecture, £5 students, or choose £20 for one year’s membership (11 events).

For more information, visit the website of the Oriental Rug and Textile Society.