Selected textile events in July

A new exhibition entitled Baghs – Abstract Gardens opened at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London today Tuesday 13 July 2021. This exhibition showcases excellent examples of baghs and phulkaris from the Karun Thakar collection. These were domestic embroidered shawls from pre-partition Punjab, which were mainly done by Sikh, Hindu and Muslim women. There was also an export market for them in the nineteenth century. Bookings for this free exhibition, which runs until 25 September 2021, are available through this link.

Part of the exhibition at the Brunei Gallery

OATG members in the UK should now be receiving their hard copy of our journal Asian Textiles. It takes a little longer to reach our overseas members, but for those who can’t wait a pdf will soon be available on our website in the password-protected area.

This is a particularly eclectic edition, with articles on Alfred Steinmann and the Ship Motif (Gaspard de Marval and Georges Breguet), Multaka-Oxford and the Jenny Balfour Paul pieces at the Pitt Rivers (Thandiwe Wilson), Textiles from the Yemen (Angela Thompson), Finnish ryijy rugs (Igor Honkanen and Gavin Strachan) and much more. We are now using a different printing company and I think the illustrations really shine through.

Another publication that you may find of interest is The Journal of Dress History, produced by The Association of Dress Historians. This Association “supports and promotes the study and professional practice of the history of dress, textiles, and accessories of all cultures and regions of the world, from before classical antiquity to the present day.” Each edition of the journal contains lengthy scholarly articles, along with numerous book and exhibition reviews. They can be accessed completely free of charge here. My only criticism would be that it would be good to have an index of the articles too. EDIT – I have since been informed that three separates indices are in fact available – one covers the articles, one the book reviews and one the exhibition reviews. lick the relevant link in the blue box on the right on this page. Apologies for not spotting this earlier!

Detail, Yūzen Pattern Dyeing on Silk, a Textile Design and Color Sample for Girls’
Kimono, Early Showa period, circa 1926–1945, © The Private Collection of Keiko
Okamoto, Tokyo, Japan

On Saturday 17 July 2021 the George Washington Textile Museum will be hosting one of its regular Rug and Textile Appreciation sessions. In Silk Stories docent Pamela Kaplan will introduce her project looking at the history of silk production in India and around the world. “The project documents the changing lives of silk farmers and textile producers through photographs, videos, interviews and more.” – Textile Museum website. This virtual event takes place at 11:00 EDT, which is 16:00 BST. It is free, but registration is required.

© Pamela Kaplan

Don’t forget the next OATG event is our talk by Walter Bruno Brix of the German Textile Museum at 18:30 BST on Thursday 22 July 2021. Walter will be talking to us about the museum’s current exhibition Dragons Woven With Golden Threads. This exhibition of around 120 pieces has been curated by Walter Bruno Brix, and contains textiles from the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) to the People’s Republic of China (1949). “Special objects include fragments of an imperial robe from the eighteenth century, a robe with dragon medallions for a noble lady in slit tapestry, two oversized robes for statues of gods, an imperial shroud, a large fragment of a palace carpet made of silk velvet”- museum website. This Zoom talk is also open to non-members for a small (£3) donation. Please click here to register, but hurry as there are not many spaces remaining!

A new exhibition will open on 23 July 2021 at The Russian Museum of Ethnography in St Petersburg. The exhibition is entitled In Harmony with Red: Turkmens and will run until 23 January 2022. It examines the dominance of the colour red in their textiles, carpets, horse and camel decorations, how it was used in ritual items and as part of decorative designs. Click here for more details and several more examples of the exhibits.

Fragment of a Yomud yurt band, nineteenth century. © REM

On Thursday 29 July 2021 the Textile Museum have another film discussion in their regular Fashion on Film series. This time the film in question is Threads – an award-winning documentary by Cathy Stevulak looking at the late Surayia Rahman and her role in transforming traditional kantha embroidery from “patchworks of old clothing to articles of fashion”. When you sign up for this event you will receive a link to watch the 32 minute documentary at your leisure, as well as instructions for joining the program for a group discussion. As the discussion is at 18:00 EDT (23:00 BST) it may be too late for our UK members, but that doesn’t preclude you from watching the documentary.

If you would like to learn more about the story behind this documentary I suggest you visit the ClothRoads website where they have an interesting blog on how it was made, beginning with the maker hearing about “a woman with grey hair who does remarkable embroidery work”.

© Cathy Stevulak

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.

Three exhibitions and some new online talks

The exhibition Drachen aus goldenen Fäden – Dragons from Golden Threads is reopening on 16 March at the German Textile Museum in Krefeld and will run until September 2021.

Ceremonial robe belonging to a high-ranking Daoist priest circa 1803. Photo by Thomas Lammertz

This exhibition of around 120 pieces has been curated by Walter Bruno Brix, and contains textiles from the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) to the People’s Republic of China (1949). “Special objects include fragments of an imperial robe from the eighteenth century, a robe with dragon medallions for a noble lady in slit tapestry, two oversized robes for statues of gods, an imperial shroud, a large fragment of a palace carpet made of silk velvet”- museum website.

Wedding garment (mang ao) for a Han Chinese lady, and three skirts (qun) with different patterns and different techniques: left: embroidery with silk on damask, centre: slit tapestry (kesi), right: embroidery with gold threads on patterned gauze. ©Walter Bruno Brix

More information on some of the extraordinary pieces, as well as additional images, can be found in this article by Petra Diederichs for RP Online. An 18 minute video of the exhibition has also been produced. Even if you don’t speak German it is well worth watching as it is a visual treat!

At-home shoes, England, c. 1880. Rasht-work embroidery. The Bata Shoe Museum.

In my most recent blog I shared a link to an online exhibition of socks from the collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. A reminder that next Saturday, 20 March, the Textile Museum will host an online talk as part of its Rug and Textile Appreciation series. The subject will be Embroidered Shoes from the Bata Shoe Museum, 1700-1950. Edward Maeder, who has been a museum curator and director since 1977, ” will explore examples from the world of European high fashion, including remarkable shoes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Maeder will also discuss shoes made with ethnographically specific decorative textile techniques, such as Persian ‘rasht-work’. This type of inlayed wool-work is extensively finished with silk chain-stitch embroidery. Other complex embroidery methods incorporate glass beads, moose-hair and fine gold and silver embroidery on leather, silk and even wool.” – Textile Museum. This free talk will begin at 11:00 EDT, which is 15:00 GMT. Click here to register. 

©Kent State University Museum

 As a complete contrast to the embroidered shoes shown above, I was struck by the simple elegance of these woven wicker shoes from the collection of Kent State University Museum. They are Chinese and were made in the twentieth century. The craftsmanship is superb!

Embroidered pillow, nineteenth century. ©REM

A new exhibition opened yesterday at the Russian Ethnographic Museum (REM). This exhibition is entitled Avant-garde? Dagestan Tradition! Kaitag embroidery from the collection of the REM and features a selection of embroideries from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. “The embroidery owes its name to the ethnographer E.M. Shilling, who in the middle of the twentieth century first described small canvases with a peculiar decor, found by him among the Kaitags (subethnos of the Dargins) in the Kaitag region of Dagestan.” – REM website. More information and excellent detailed images of some of the exhibits is available here.

Chand Baori stepwell, Abhaneri, Rajasthan. The oldest parts of this building date to the eighth century, though much of it was built around the eighteenth century. ©Victoria Lautman

Next Saturday, 20 March (a very busy day for events as regular readers will know) the Bowers Museum in California will host an online talk by Victoria Lautman on the subject of stepwells. These are magnificent subterranean water-harvesting structures found in India for many centuries. “Victoria Lautman has spent years documenting hundreds of the little-known underground edifices and her landmark book, The Vanishing Stepwells of India, was first published in 2017 (Merrell Publishers, London). Newly released in paperback, the book and Victoria’s lavishly illustrated talk trace the fascinating history, variety, and current state of India’s least-known marvels.” – Bowers website. The talk takes place at 13:30 PDT, which is 16:30 in the UK. Click here for more details and talk registration.

Riga (gown), ca. 1870, Hausa, Nigeria.
Cotton and silk plain weave (strip woven) with cotton embroidery. ©Rhode Island School of Design Museum

The Rhode Island School of Design Museum currently has an interesting exhibition called It Comes in Many Forms: Islamic Art from the Collection. This “presents textiles, decorative arts, and works on paper that attest to the pluralism of Islam and its expressions. From an Egyptian textile fragment dating to the 1100s to a contemporary woman’s top by the Paris-based designer Azzedine Alaïa, 30 objects offer explorations into migration, diasporas, and exchange and suggest the difficulty of defining arts from a transnational religious viewpoint.” – RISD website. This exhibition runs until 14 August 2021.

A reminder of the other talks taking place next weekend:

Ms Boua at her loom, weaving naga head cloth. © Carol Cassidy

On Saturday 20 March at 10:00 PDT, which is 17:00 in the UK, the Textile Arts Council will host Carol Cassidy who will talk on the subject of Weaving, Tradition, Art and Community. Carol founded Lao Textiles in Vientiane in 1990. It was the first American business in the country and was based on the traditional skills of the weavers. There is a small fee for non-members and you can register here.

Indigo in a locally produced pot in a village on Savu. ©David Richardson

Also on 20 March the OATG is delighted to be welcoming back Dr. Geneviève Duggan to give another talk. Dr. Duggan is an anthropologist who has researched the culture, history and weaving traditions of the remote Indonesian island of Savu for three decades. The intriguing title of the talk is People without history in eastern Indonesia, powerful or powerless? Dr. Duggan will discuss several important life cycle ceremonies, which are the responsibility of women “whose intangible power resides in handwoven cloths produced for the occasion”. The talk will begin at 11:00 am GMT. Unfortunately this timing doesn’t work well for our members on the West coast of the USA, but as Geneviève is based in Singapore we were restricted in our choice. The recording of the programme will later be archived in the members-only section of our website. This event is of course free for OATG members. Non-members are welcome for a small fee, but do need to register by clicking here – don’t forget places are limited! Having visited the weavers on Savu many times, including several times with Geneviève, I can thoroughly recommend this talk.

Finally, copies of the next edition of Asian Textiles should be arriving with members any day now – ours arrived yesterday. It’s always a treat to make a cuppa and see what delights are inside its covers. If you have any ideas for future editions of the journal or the Lockdown Newsletter please contact our editor Gavin Strachan.

Textiles from Morocco, China, Ghana and Central Asia

Regular readers may remember that in my previous blog I wrote about the Textiles on the Move online conference, explaining that videos of the full proceedings were now available to view. They will only be available until tomorrow, 15 November 2020, so if you still haven’t seen them you need to act fast!

The programme was very varied, with an impressive line-up of speakers looking at kantha from Bengal, kanga from Africa, Turkmen carpets, Javanese batik, Silk Road textiles and much, much more. You can download the programme and abstracts here.

Click here for more information and to access all of the videos .

Last October the Brunei Gallery at SOAS in London hosted a very successful exhibition of African textiles from the renowned collector Karun Thakar. One of the highlights of the exhibition was a group of Asafo flags from Ghana. Now over 250 of these flags form an online exhibition, in which the flags have been divided into three groups by age – 19th century to early 1900s, 1920s to 1957, and 1957 to the 1970s.

Before viewing the flags, I would highly recommend reading the excellent short article Proverbs on Parade by Duncan Clarke, written to accompany it. In it he explains that the Asafo were military associations and that the flags are appliqué- and embroidery-decorated cloth banners, which were produced by local specialists.

“Asafo flags are paraded through the fishing villages and towns of the Fante region in a vibrant tradition that depicts a cast of characters blending local mythology with European heraldry. Kings and queens interact with soldiers and musicians, dragons and gryphons, elephants and leopards, whales and sharks, ships, trains and aeroplanes.” – Duncan Clarke.

A flag being displayed. ©Karun Collection

Clarke goes on to explain how certain images could only be used by specific groups, and that the use of an image from another group could have dire consequences. He also gives the meaning behind some of these images – many of which are linked to proverbs.

Having read the article I had a better understanding of and appreciation of the flags in the exhibition. You can see a high quality enlargement of each flag by clicking on the relevant image.

“Two men stand by a large boiling pot on a fire; one has his hand in the bubbling liquid, telling a rival company ‘it boils but it doesn’t burn’, asserting that the rival company makes a big show but is not actually dangerous.” Text by Duncan Clarke. ©Karun Collection. 

Now to two exhibitions on a very different theme. The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore is showcasing Chinese textiles in the exhibition Fashion Revolution: Chinese dress from late Qing to 1976. We might not be able to travel at the moment, but thankfully a virtual online tour is available. Clicking the arrow in the bottom left of the screen will give you a very quick overview. I then found it easiest to press the View Floor Plan button (just along from the arrow). If you then point to a circle it will bring up information about that particular textile.

Silk robe 1890-1905 with chrysanthemums and longevity characters. ©Dante Singaland

The Textile Museum in Krefeld, Germany, has a new exhibition entitled Drachen aus Goldenen Fäden – Dragons from Golden Threads. This exhibition has been curated by Walter Bruno Brix and contains some very special pieces, including the priest’s robe shown below. More information on some of the extraordinary pieces, as well as additional images, can be found in this article by Petra Diederichs for RP Online.

Ceremonial robe belonging to a high-ranking Daoist priest circa 1803. Photo by Thomas Lammertz

An 18 minute video of the exhibition has also been produced. Even if you don’t speak German it is well worth watching as it is a visual treat!

The Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh has a new exhibition from the collection of Bert Flint, a Dutchman who moved to the city in 1957. He collected textiles, jewellery and other beautiful items from across North Africa, the Shara and the Sahel. He also has a small museum in the heart of the old part of the city.

Our recent online lecture by Sarah Fee was a great success, and we have received lots of positive responses to it. The talk was recorded and will be available for members to view shortly in a password-protected area of our website. A notification of the password will be sent to members.

Our next online lecture will be by journalist and author Nick Fielding, a long-standing member of the OATG. The subject of Nick’s talk is Travellers in the Great Steppe – Nomads and their Textiles. Nick is a very engaging speaker with a wealth of knowledge in this area and this should be a fascinating talk.

The cover of Nick’s new book Travellers in the Great Steppe: from the Papal Envoys to the Russian Revolution.

This talk is scheduled for 10 December. As usual, it is free for OATG members, but registration is essential. Registration will be open for OATG members EXCLUSIVELY until 20 November (you should have already received the invitation), after which any remaining places will be offered to non-members.

The next edition of Asian Textiles should have reached most members by now. This includes a lengthy article on Naga textiles by Joanna Cole and Julia Nicholson of the Pitt Rivers Museum and another on Pekalongan batik by Maria Wronska-Friend. I’m sure weavers will be fascinated to read the research on a Taiwanese Kahabu flag by Tsai Yu Shan. 

Don’t forget that members can access pdf copies of all editions through our website. Non-members can access all but the last three years here

In addition to this our editor, Gavin Strachan, is currently putting together a third Lockdown Newsletter, which should go out just before Christmas. If you would like to contribute something to this please email it to him by 7 December. Perhaps you have an interesting story about a particular textile, a review of a book, a query about something in your collection that you would like to share?

With all of these exciting developments why not consider becoming a member? Although we are the Oxford Asian Textile Group we do have many members from throughout the UK and the rest of the world. Details of how to join can be found here.