Published: December 9, 2008
The Rubin Museum of Art will present an array of fine hand stitched embroidery from India and Pakistan in “Color & Light: Embroidery from India and Pakistan,” opening Friday, December 12, and on view through May 11.
The 60 embroidered textiles in the exhibition are drawn from one of the world’s finest collections of South Asian textiles, at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto. Included are ceremonial scarves made with painstaking detail, clothing embellished with mirrors and metallic thread, and vibrant patterned domestic fabrics, ranging in date form the Eighteenth Century to today.
“Color & Light” also features a number of textiles created by near-forgotten or otherwise endangered embroidery techniques. For even as traditional embroidery reemerges as an income-generating activity and a vehicle for improving women’s lives in Southeast Asia, the inexorable drive toward urbanization, the desire for mainstream fashions and the increasing availability of inexpensive, machine-made textiles are endangering the finer forms.
“The intricate patterns, the refraction of light off silk threads, the subtle color changes and the striking juxtapositions of shapes †these characteristics have enchanted visitors to the region for more than 2,000 years,” says Becky Bloom, assistant curator, Rubin Museum of Art.
The ethnic and geographic diversity of present-day India and Pakistan is reflected in the variety of decorative motifs, color combinations, materials, patterns and stitching techniques used to embellish cloth. In this way, textiles serve as indicators of community or religious affiliations. Embroiders created in keeping with Islamic traditions, for example, are frequently identified by precise and complex geometric patterns. Hindu textiles, on the other hand, often feature naturalistic or highly stylized representational motifs. Embellishments used on all types of textiles include beetle-wing cases (elytra) interlaced with green metallic thread and flat metallic strips (Lamella) on a simple white cotton background.
In both India and Pakistan, craftspeople incorporate small pieces of mirror (shisha) into the embroidery. To make the mirrors, large slivered glass globes are hand blown and then smashed. The resulting small fragments, after being shaped into circles or triangles, are sold for use in embroidery. This technique is exemplified in a northern Indian boy’s jacket (jhuladi) that is detailed in silk embroidery with dense geometric and floral patterns and adorned with delicate mirror work.
The museum is at 150 West 17th Street. For more information, www.rmanyc.org or 212-620-5000.
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