Molas, Uyghur felt, Suzani and fish skin robes

There are lots of exciting events coming up this month and I’m highlighting a few of them below.

I mentioned in my most recent blog that the OATG have arranged a small group visit to the exhibition Peru: a journey in time at the British Museum on Friday 11 February at 14:00 GMT. Cecilia Pardo, lead curator for the exhibition, will give a short talk in the Great court first. Then our Chair, Helen Wolfe, who has recently retired from her role as Textile Collection Manager at the British Museum will take the group through to the exhibition and be available to answer questions. Our tickets are available at a reduced price of £10, payable on the day to Helen. There are still two places available for this very special visit. To reserve one please email our Secretary Cecilia Lloyd.

A mola in the collection of the British Museum featuring nine squirrels or ‘ukswinni’. These are one of the Kuna’s favourite subjects for molas. © The Trustees of the British Museum
 

On Saturday 12 February Tom Hannaher will give an online presentation on Painting With Scissors: Mola Art of the Kuna (Guna) Indians. This programme is co-sponsored by the Textile Museum Associates of Southern California and the New England Rug Society. The focus of the presentation will be early and middle-period molas (1910-1970) and will include many rare pieces.

“Molas are panels used in blouses worn by women of the Kuna (Guna) culture of Panama and Colombia. Using a combination of applique, reverse applique, and embroidery, Kuna women create dazzling imagery based on Kuna mythology, customs, and daily life. They also seek graphic inspiration from non-Kuna references ranging from political posters to cartoons to advertising campaigns. This presentation by Tom Hannaher will focus on pre-1970 examples and will include a number of unpublished masterpieces, some from the early part of the twentieth century. Many of the pieces are from the collections of Kit Kapp and Ann Parker Neal, two authors of early books on mola art.” – TMA/SC

The talk begins at 10:00 PST, which is 18:00 GMT.

Slightly earlier that same day the Textile Museum will hold its regular Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning by Zoom. The speaker will be Christine Martens and her subject is Distinguishing Uyghur Feltmaking.

“Feltmaking has existed for millennia in the cities and villages of what is now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China — homeland of the Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uyghurs. Archeological discoveries give a sense of this ancient art, which continued to flourish in the oases that dot the southern rim of the Taklamakan desert.

In this virtual talk researcher Christine Martens examines the felt processes and compares Uyghur felt with the traditions of the Turkmen, Kyrgyz and Turks, including gender roles in felt making.

Martens also examines how Uyghur cultural history and the “everyday” exist within the spiritual landscape of southern Xinjiang. She explores the participation in shrine visitation and the use of the “risala,” a treatise or guidebook governing the moral, spiritual and ethical behavior of artisans, to shed light on little-known aspects of Uyghur sacred history and accompanying rituals.” – TM website

Chris has conducted fieldwork and led tours in Central Asia for many years and I’m sure this will be a fascinating programme. It begins at 11:00 EST, which is 16:00 GMT and you can register for it here.

On Thursday 17 February the Hajji Baba Club of New York will be hosting London-based specialist and dealer Ali Istalifi. His online talk is entitled Central Asian Suzani: Understanding the Tradition and Attribution of Silk Dowry Embroideries.

“Over the past half a century, Suzani embroideries of Central Asia have captured the imagination of textile collectors and aficionados around the world. Examples from the late 18th Century up to the early 1900s are now considered as some of the most coveted of all textile arts and most tend to demand high prices at major auctions, antique fairs and galleries.

This talk will explore the aesthetic and artistic merits of these traditional dowry embroideries in order to help understand and appreciate their appeal. By analyzing and categorizing the specific characteristics of design, color, type of stitches and material used to make them, dating and attribution will become easier for both those who are familiar and unfamiliar to this textile art.” – Hajji Baba Club website

The talk begins at 11:00 EST, which is 16:00 GMT . More details and registration available here.

Woman’s festive robe, Nanai people, REM

I recently shared a post from the Russian Museum of Ethnography about clothing from fish skins. The robe (pictured above) was stunning and I wanted to learn more about this type of clothing. It appears that the skins used were mainly those of large salmon, and the clothes produced were lightweight and waterproof. Decorations were added in various forms – appliqué, embroidery, and drawing directly on the garment either freehand or using a stencil. It clearly took months to make a robe such as this.

Tanned fish skin leather  and products made from it. © Kathleen Hinkel

I was delighted to then be directed to this article on The Art of Turning Fish into Leather by Chloe Williams in Hakai magazine. In it she examines how various artists are rediscovering this ancient craft, and explains some of the different methods they have tried – some more successful than others. Coffee, black tea, eggs, alder bark and even urine have all played a part.

The article is also available in audio format here.

Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. Coll.no. RV-434-1

That led me to another Hakai article, this time by Jude Isabella, called The Secret Language of Salmon Skin Coats. She describes how a Nivkhi woman from the Amur River area would have prepared around 100 salmon skins to make one robe. “She would have scraped away the flesh before washing the skins in salt water (women keeping the craft alive today use soap), then drying and beating the skins before piecing together the coat with thread fashioned from fish skin or sinew.” I was amazed to read how the thread expands when it gets wet, meaning that the holes made by the sewing needle are then filled and the garment becomes watertight – ingenious!

Nanai stencil

Tom Murray (he of the Textiles of Japan: The Thomas Murray Collection fame) then directed me to this website on the Costume of the Peoples of the Lower Amur, which again has lots of useful and fascinating information and images, including a diagram of the coat construction. The author notes how in some instances the fish skin leather has been dropped in favour of woven cloth, but the motifs have remained in the form of appliqué. He also includes many excellent black and white images. Tom has also informed me that the long-awaited Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibit based on his book will open in June and will feature not one but two salmon skin robes!

Recordings, articles and upcoming talks

For the past year we have had to hold all of our OATG events online. This means we have missed out on the social aspects of catching up with textile friends over a glass of wine after the lectures, as well as getting to actually handle the textiles. However there have been some advantages. We’ve been able to listen to speakers from other countries – Sarah Fee from Toronto, Geneviève Duggan from Singapore and Walter Bruno Brix from Köln – with more to come later this year.

One of the great benefits of OATG membership is access to recordings of these talks, enabling you to watch them at a time of your choosing – particularly important now that we have so many international members. Recordings of the most recent talks (on Chinese, Iranian and Greek textiles) have now been made available. Just go to our website, click on the relevant talk and enter the password. If you have forgotten the password please contact a committee member.

In a recent blog I mentioned the Journal of Dress History and incorrectly stated that it did not have an index. In fact three are provided on the website – one each for articles, exhibition reviews and book reviews. Just click on the relevant link in the blue box on this page.

Portrait of Dowager Empress Tse Hsi by Katharine Carl, 1904. © Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

If like me you really enjoyed the recent talk on Chinese textiles by Walter Bruno Brix, then I’m sure this article in the Spring 2020 issue of the Journal (pp. 111-136) will be of interest to you. The subject is Of Silk and Statecraft: Dowager Empress Cixi (1835–1908) and Power Dressing in Late Qing Dynasty China, 1860–1911, and the author is Felicity Yao.

Saami boots with upturned toes, Aiddjavre, Norway. © Ron Wood

On Sunday 8th August 2021 the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, will hold a virtual tour of their exhibition Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection. This will take place at 1100 EDT, which is 1600 BST and you can register for it via this link. More information about the exhibition, including some excellent images and a short video of the techniques and skills used by Canadian Inuit women to create intricate and beautiful designs on traditional kamiks, can be found here.

Chullos from Tarabuco, Bolivia

The next in the series of textile talks hosted by Andean Textile Arts will take place on Tuesday 10th August 2021 at 1900 EDT, which is midnight BST, so another one for the nightowls. The speaker will be Cynthia LeCount Samaké and her subject is the Andean Knitting of Bolivia and Peru. Cynthia is the author of Andean Folk Knitting, A Textile Traveler’s Guide to Peru and Bolivia, and many textile-related articles. I can certainly attest to her love of knitting, having seen her knit her way through the nightly lectures when she joined our Indonesian textile tour!

A tiny monedero knitted in the shape of a man holding a llama. © Cynthia LeCount Samaké

In this talk she will show that “knitters in the Andes continue to produce amazing headgear and other textiles for their own use. Their intricate and innovative work today surprises viewers by going beyond typical colors and motifs, while remaining true to traditional techniques and form.” – ATA website. Click here to register.

A kalamkari hanging. © ROM

On Wednesday 18th August 2021 the Royal Ontario Museum will host a free Zoom programme linked to their current exhibition on chintz, the Cloth that Changed the World. Rosemary Crill, a long-time supporter of the OATG, will examine an important group of seventeenth century South Indian textiles. “These previously unknown, extraordinary kalamkari masterworks depict scenes from palace life, with a Hindu ruler and ladies in a palace setting and in procession with his army. This talk will place these panels in the context of other known kalamkari hangings and the elaborate decoration of the textiles and architectural settings will be discussed, as well as the probable patron and place of production.” – ROM website. This talk begins at noon EDT, which is 1700 BST and you can register for it here.

Selvedge have an interesting blog about the logos used for the current Tokyo Olympics. Designed by Tokolo Asao and called Harmonised chequered emblem, these logos are made up of rectangles and a square in a pattern called ichimatsu moyo, which apparently first became popular in the Edo period of Japan. “The three different rectangles that connect at every corner can fill a circle perfectly — at first glance the simplicity is deceptive, and further inspection reveals the complexity that can only have been made possible as a result of mathematical logic. The design is said to represent the harmony of different countries, cultures and an inclusive world.” – Selvedge blog

The links between Japan and indigo are well-known, and an excellent short article by Rowland Ricketts on the growing of indigo can be accessed here.

Nineteenth century suzani from Nurata, Uzbekistan. © Russian State Museum of Oriental Art.

Voices on Central Asia has an interesting and well-illustrated article on suzani. It is entitled The Love and Beauty of Wedding Suzani from the Collection of the Russian State Museum of Oriental Art and was written by Vera Myasina. It contains an overview of suzani production and describes the broad differences between suzani from different areas of Uzbekistan – the airy open feel of Nurata suzani, the huge dark circles from Tashkent etc.

A controversial carpet: 16th century Persia or 19th century Persia or India? Purchased by J.Paul Getty from the Kevorkian Collection, 1969

Finally on Thursday 26th August 2021 we have the next OATG talk. Our speaker will be Dr Dorothy Armstrong, May Beattie Visiting Fellow in Carpet Studies at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The title of the talk is Mrs Beattie and Mr Getty: a carpet controversy.

In 1969, May Beattie, a British carpet scholar with no academic affiliation, working from her home in Sheffield, was invited by John Paul Getty, one of the world’s richest men, to catalogue his growing collection of carpets. In the following months, the two strong personalities went head-to-head over their provenance. This quarrel had a direct effect on the collecting practices of what became the world’s richest arts institution, The Getty Foundation, and has left open questions about a set of Persian and Indo-Persian carpets. It’s a revealing episode of the interaction of scholarly challenge and market practices around a set of beautiful and luxurious carpets.

This talk begins at 1830 BST and is free for OATG members, who should have already received their invitation but still need to register. Registration (£3) for non-members will open on 8th August. Be sure to note this in your diary as it is certainly going to be a popular talk.

Article: Iwatate Folk Museum

Suzani. © Keisuke Fukamizu

This article, with text by Kosuke Ide and photos by Keisuke Fukamizu, looks at the Iwatate Folk Museum in Tokyo. The museum houses the collection of Hiroko Iwatate which consists of over eight thousand textiles from many different areas of Asia. Having studied dyeing techniques under two prominent artisans Hiroko then embarked on her travels, spending time in Peru, Mexico and Guatamala. However it was her first visit to India in 1970 that really seems to have sparked her imagination and set her off on a lifetime of collecting. Indeed half of the eight thousand pieces in the collection are from India.

This article showcases some wonderful textiles from an exhibition entitled Suzani Magnificent Embroidery (although most of the images are not of suzanis), which was held in 2015.

Labijar kilim. © Ryohei Sasatani.

The current exhibition is on Kilims – Daily Rugs from Afghanistan, and ends on 16 March 2019. Again the title of the exhibition is slightly misleading as you will see if you click through some of the images of the pieces featured in it. These include salt bags, tent bands, bed ornaments and coats.

Pashtoon child’s coat. © Ryohei Sasatani.

 

*****************************************


 

Event: Ali Istalifi Talks about Suzani, Ikat and other Central Asian Textiles for ORTS

Event date: Wednesday 25 October, 7pm

This is an Oriental Rug and Textile Society event.

Ali Istalifi gave the successful lecture on Central Asian Ikat at the SOAS Brunei Gallery World Ikat Textile Symposium in 2016. Born in Afghanistan to a family of dealers for three generations on Kabul’s famous Chicken Street, Ali has a large collection, and unique access to the subject as a fluent speaker of Dari. He will bring textiles to show us.

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.

Exhibition: Sewing Paradise – A Sisterhood Through Suzani

Irma Stern Museum - Sewing Paradise

Exhibition dates: 2–30 July 2016

Sewing Paradise, on show at the University of Cape Town’s Irma Stern Museum, is a celebration of the contribution women make to the world through their creative talents. The show will feature Manina Baumann’s magnificent collection of hand-embroidered Uzbek suzanis as well as art works that have been created in response to these Central Asian textiles. Curated by Michael Chandler, the all-female exhibition aims to explore the notion of the inner-garden; a timeless metaphor for a state of ideal beauty and harmony. Exhibiting local and international artists, the show will also feature lesser-known works by Irma Stern, who herself was an ardent textile enthusiast and collector.

For more information, visit the website of the Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, South Africa.