Vibrant textiles have long been synonymous with Indian culture. Their distinctive abstract, floral and figurative patterns have inspired countless variations.
The beauty, variety and cultural significance of an array of traditional Indian fabrics ranging from folk embroideries and Mughal courtly weavings to block-printed, appliqué and hand-painted cloths and knotted-pile carpets, are being celebrated in a major new exhibition. Dating from the 8th to the early 20th century, some 100 pieces patterned with India’s most enduring and distinctive designs are on view until 4 June 2022 at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.
Indian Textiles unites masterworks from two internationally renowned collections, including garments from The Textile Museum Collection made for an elite clientele and domestic fabrics from the London-based private collection of Karun Thakar. Dramatically installed across two floors, the exhibition includes examples of block print, ikat, and embroidery, and highlights the technical and aesthetic virtuosity of their makers, as well as the social, cultural, economic, and political contexts that informed the design choices.
Indian textile artists have developed a globally influential and enduring design vocabulary. Spanning time, region, technique and levels of patronage, the fabrics in the exhibition are arranged in three thematic sections—abstract, floral, and figurative—that correspond to the predominate ornamental elements traditionally used by Indian textile makers.
Some of the region’s oldest known textiles feature abstract patterns such as circles, stripes and zigzags. Examples in the exhibition range from a fragment of a block-printed cloth traded to Egypt around the 15th century to intricately embroidered dresses made in present-day Pakistan’s Swat Valley in the 1800s and 1900s.
Lee Talbot, curator, The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum said: 'This exhibition illustrates how generations of cultivators, weavers, dyers, printers and embroiderers have ingeniously harnessed the region's natural resources to create a remarkable range of fine fabrics, while Indian artisans excelled in adapting designs for changing consumer tastes and markets. India dominated the global textile trade for centuries, exporting top-quality, affordable fabrics to England, Indonesia, Japan and other markets across Europe and Asia.'
The exhibition is organised in cooperation with the Embassy of India in celebration of India’s 75th anniversary of independence.
To find out more about Indian Textiles: 1000 Years of Art and Design visit the George Washington University Museum website.