Image: Ikunti artist painting on fabric
As our world shifts towards a greater consciousness of ecological forms of thinking and the importance of finding harmony and balance across the globe, more of us are reflecting on the way that we live. Perhaps some of the answers we are looking for can be found in contemplating and reviving ancient ways of doing and thinking, which can bring comfort, wisdom or inspiration.
Textiles in the ancient world constituted one of the most prominent forms of wealth. In ancient Byzantium, cloth was rendered indispensable and served as a powerful political weapon as well as a diplomatic tool that was featured in domestic and in foreign policy. The luxurious purple garments made from the dye extracted from murex snails - one of the rarest and most labour-intensive fabrics at the time - established a hierarchy of splendor between social, artistic, religious, economic and political boundaries.
Image: Lovi Twine back strap weavers
In the ancient Greek tragedy Persians, the symbolism of textiles is associated throughout the story with concepts of wealth, production, destruction, value addition and waste, providing a reflection on humanity’s place within the natural order. The overarching theme of the play is the downfall of the Persians from prosperity to destruction, an event captured by the devaluation of their textiles.
In many cultures the creation of life is likened to the spinning of a thread and to the weaving of a garment. In the ancient form of loin loom weaving in Nagaland, at the northern tip of India, hundreds of women scattered across miles of remote misty mountaintops weave their magic. They work on the loin loom (also known as the back strap loom) which is considered to be one of the oldest devices for weaving cloth in the world. A continuous warp is stretched between two parallel pieces of bamboo, one end tied to a post or door, and the other end held by a strap worn around the weaver’s lower back to regulate the tension with her body. The woven cloth is a true amalgamation of mind, body, and artform.
Image: Lovi Twine
This colourful tradition perfected over centuries is being carried forward by Lovitoli Sumi and her company Lovi Twine. Sumi learnt the art of loin loom weaving from her mother and has turned it into her livelihood. In Nagaland the yarns are woven to produce thick and compact fabric, with designs which are an amalgamation of traditional and contemporary. Her designs depict the plant and animal motifs traditional to the region, with the tiger signifying courage, strength, protection, elephants signifying strength, while the sun, moon, or stars indicate power.
Five | Six Textiles collaborates with Dyula weavers in Côte d’Ivoire to preserve the artistic practice of hand-weaving in the present and for the future. Five | Six began with a conversation. Emma Wingeld, a textile specialist, met with the Dyula Master weavers of Waraniéné, and they expressed an interest in working with someone on product development and bringing their textiles to an international audience. Five | Six Textiles was founded two years later, and now produces limited edition and small batch collections of home textiles that use traditional patterns to produce modern fabrics while also preserving a rare weaving culture.
Image: Five | Six Textiles collaboration with Dyula weavers in Côte d’Ivoire
In many traditional cultures, textiles and cloth making were understood as creative wealth and were seen as fundamentally connected with growth and life. The human activity of textile-making in the traditional way adds value to the materials taken from earth and it is one of the most natural of human interventions in the natural environment since it adds value to materials without destroying them. Gathering wool, flax or cotton not only avoids destructive procedures, but the processing into thread and the joining of the threads to create usable objects of exchangeable value and beauty when done on a small scale, is an example of human activity that is in harmony with nature.
Anil Vangad was born in a small Indian village in the state of Maharashtra, where he grew up watching his mother paint in his tribe’s traditional Warli style, a form of painting that stretches far back into undocumented history and has its origins in prehistoric rock art. Unlike some visual traditions which are based on mythology, Warli paintings depict daily life. The materials used as painting materials are all elements vital to life. Rice paste from paddies, charcoal from the fires and cow dung from animals. These materials taken from earth are an extension of the natural processes of production and growth, delighting the senses with an ancient tradition and its respect for harmony with nature.
Image: Anil Vangard Warli painting
Ikuntji Artists in Central Australia celebrate and preserve culture and connection to the traditional lands by producing authentic Aboriginal art on cloth or canvas that draws inspiration from a profound sense of ‘Ngurra’ (a word meaning home, which can refer to to a bush shelter, vast tracts of land or a house) and ‘Tjukurrpa’ (dreaming, expressing the spiritual and social dimensions of life). These designs are part of a chronicle stretching back thousands of years, which has been used to convey knowledge of the land, teach survival, remember events and communicate beliefs.
Image: Ikuntji artist painting on fabric
These examples from around the world are part of the cultural history of cloth and creativity that the Selvedge World Fair celebrates. They are examples of culture connected to nature, where textiles are linked to a system of thinking that considers nature, harmony and balance to be an essential part of creation. They are shining examples of threads of inspiration from our world where earth is the ultimate household, and people’s diversity and creativity are the ultimate reserve and source of wealth and life.
Written by Barbara Mathews Cieleszky
Lovi Twine, Ikuntji Artists, Five | Six Textiles and Anil Vangad are all participating in the Selvedge World Fair 2021.