I visited this exhibition of world textiles last week and wished it had been on whilst I was working on fabric manipulation and weaving last year! It was a showcase of work by new artists the world over, with focus on techniques such as shibori, batik, and weaving including ikat techniques.
The first part of the exhibition included examples and demonstration of ikat weaving on a traditional backstrap loom, used by the Iban weaving community of Malaysia. The design was first created by resist dyeing the warp using plastic twine to block out areas. Many of these fabrics have ceremonial uses and common motifs were diamonds and hooks. These bore some similarities with the Phu-kit textiles from Thailand, ceremonial cloth also ikat woven on a backstrap loom, but supplementary threads are used to create a rich pattern that can be mistaken for embroidery. In this exhibition traditional-style Malaysian pieces were displayed along with strikingly modern looking pieces such as one from Uzbekistan by textile artist Rasulion Mirzaahmedov, woven with silk velvet in a bold black and white spotted design.
My favourite piece in the exhibition was a large scale embroidery by Chinese textile artist Zuo Yingzi, which came from a series titled ‘Branches and Vines’. One disappointment from this exhibition was a lack of a programme or postcards of the pieces, and prohibition of photography. I would have loved a picture of this piece to refer to, and cannot find an image of this particular version online. Her other pieces are characteristic of the ‘house style’ where she works, using minute delicate silk stitches to build up photo realistic images. The direction of the stitches with the sheen of the silk builds an incredible illusion of three-dimensionality. This larger style piece was far bolder with large stitches and two colour schemes that interlaced as branches. Hard candy pinks and blues with pastel cyan were juxtaposed with autumn red and yellows moving to a deep forest green.
Downstairs I was captivated by the detailed Chinese embroidery, both the more experimental pieces by Yiang Xuefang depicting reeds reflecting in water, and the more traditional double sided embroideries showing immense skill. Xuefang’s largest piece on the lightest silk fabric was left floating rather than stretched, which helped to convey the rippling water in the image.
Pieces I took particular inspiration from were large natural fibre weavings from the Phillipines, incorporating loops and netted areas; woven horse hair jewellery in umbrella and lantern shapes by Chantal Bernsau of Chile; indigo dyed hemp by the Hmong Hill Tribe of Thailand which was appliqued over with red ribbon and folded shapes, and other areas cross-stitched in red to highlight elements of the dyed design; Malay pieces using slices of varnished betel nut as shibori inclusions; kantha pieces from Bangledesh; shibori dyed silk scarves where small peaks were tied and arranged in circles to distort the fabric construction as well as dyeing it; and traditional Malaysian plaited Sarawak ‘Tikar Begerang’ mats used during marriage ceremonies.
I have made lots of notes and liked the focus on functionality and social meanings in the work as well as the technical side.
Jennifer Harris (ed.) ‘5000 years of textiles’ The British Museum Press, 2010
‘World Textiles: A Sourcebook’ The British Museum Press, 2012