London Art Reviews

Magazine of art press and reviews from London

The coloured Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A Museum, London.

David Franchi – Sunday, 31th January 2016.

Installation view of The Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A  Victoria and Albert Museum London

Installation view of The Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A Victoria and Albert Museum London

The “Fabric of India” was a vivid exhibition at the V&A Museum, London.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, “The Fabric of India” was the first exhibition to properly investigate the outstandingly prosperous world of handmade textiles from India. The exhibition displayed fabrics from the earliest known Indian fabric fragments to contemporary fashion. It showed the technical mastery and inventiveness of Indian textiles and it was the highlight of the V&A Museum‘s India Festival.

Celebrating the variety, virtuosity and continuous innovation of India’s textile traditions, “The Fabric of India” presented around 200 handmade objects. On display there were examples of everyday fabrics and previously unseen treasures; from ancient ceremonial banners to contemporary saris, sacred temple hangings and bandanna handkerchiefs, and last but not least, the spectacular tent used by Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), the legendary sovereign of the Kingdom of Mysore.

The story of Indian textiles is significant. They define the Indian life, whether are used for a sumptuous court or for a

Installation view of The Fabric of India at the VA c Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Installation view of The Fabric of India at the VA c Victoria and Albert Museum, London

religious function. In ancient Greek and Babylon, India was shorthand to indicate cotton, while in ancient world some Indian names of colours were even adopted in Greek, Egypt, Rome, etc.

The most ancient cotton thread we know are Indian (4,000 BC), and so are the dyed ones (2,500 BC).

Many of the pieces on show at Fabric of India were coming from the formerly India Museum in London (1801 -79), and some others are on show for the first time.

India has an important tradition in making and dyeing textile. This is due to its varied regions and climate which allows diverse natural resources, such as plants fibres and dyes. Additionally, over the centuries different local traditions have been developed, for example the golden silk of Assam, the fine cotton of Bengal, and the red dyes of south -east India.

The V&A Museum exhibition also investigated the variety, lavishness, and finery of objects handmade for the rich and potent Mughal and Deccani courts of the 17th to 19th centuries.

Houndstooth sari by Abraham and Thakore, double ikat silk, Hyderabad, 2011, ph. co. Abraham Thakore

Houndstooth sari by Abraham and Thakore, double ikat silk, Hyderabad, 2011, ph. co. Abraham Thakore

Through the reputation of chintzes, the global export of Indian textiles became particularly strong in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries. The traditional Indian motifs were adapted to the European taste.

However, the European industrialisation threatened to eradicate Indian hand -making skills in the 19th century. Imitations of India’s fabrics were made at lower cost, particularly in British mills, and they were flooding the Indian market, menacing India’s textile economy and profoundly altering the hand-made based production.

“The Fabric of India” analysed the period the Swadeshi (‘Own Country’) group was operating. A resistance movement, it led to the development of the Indian nationhood and textiles played a significant role. Swadeshi called for Indians to stop buying foreign goods and support local production. By the early 20th century, Indian textiles became a major symbol of resistance to British rule. In the 1930s, Mahatma Gandhi exacerbated the situation by inviting Indian people to spin and weave their own yarn and fabric by hand, to produce a cloth known as Khadi, which became a symbol for independent India.

After the independence, many initiatives were undertaken to defend the cultural heritage of handmade textiles and to reintegrate them into the economy. Fabric of India dedicated sections and several examples to contemporary Indian production.

Nowadays original approaches to historic hand-making techniques are manifest from high-end fashion catwalks to gallery walls. At the V&A Museum exhibition, emphasized the constant use of Indian handmade textile by international brands such as Hermes and Isabel Marant. Contemporary Indian textile art was on show to demonstrate how traditional natural dyes, embroidery and hand painting techniques are being used to produce decorative pieces.

The final section of the exhibition explores India’s dynamic fashion industry and its continuity of India’s textile

Ceremonial cloth woven silk and gold-wrapped thread Gujarat for the Thai market, 19th century, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Ceremonial cloth woven silk and gold-wrapped thread Gujarat for the Thai market, 19th century, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

traditions. The flourishing culture of Indian big cities is cradling an international generation of designers, artists, consumers and patrons. They live in a high-tech environment, and are reflecting the most recent development in textile.

An assortment of the most interesting saris being produced today was shown as an involving closing moment at the V&A Museum exhibition. A traditional Indian dress, the sari has been adopted in recent years by contemporary designers as an opportunity to unite inventive design with an exclusively Indian identity.

A special soundtrack was made and background played for this exhibition, Soundscape, by sound designer Jason Singh.

The exhibition was curated by Rosemary Crill, Senior Curator in the Asian Department, and Divia Patel, Curator in the Asian Department and designed by Gitta Geschwendtner.

“The Fabric of India” exhibition was part of V&A India Festival, a series of exhibitions, activities and events throughout Autumn 2015 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Nehru Gallery of Indian Art at the V&A.

The exhibition supporters were Good Earth India, Experion and NIRAV MODI.

The exhibition “The Fabric of India” was at the V&A Museum, London, from 3rd October 2015 until 10th January 2016.

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