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Thursday, 7 January 2016

Fabric of India @ V&A

This autumn the V&A present a series of exhibitions, events and displays to celebrate twenty five years of the Museums Nehru Gallery, it appears to be an upcoming trend with many museums planning on marking the richness and culture of India in 2017 the recently announced UK-India Year of Culture. But of course the V&A as always are ahead of the buck and have started the celebrations a bit earlier than the rest.  

Closing on the 10th January 2016 the Fabric of India explores the influence and beauty of handmade Indian textiles from the 3rd to 21st Century by displaying a large proportion of their own incredible collection that discusses the textile's use in court, religion, global trade, power and protest across the large time span.  

Opening with a stunning modern sari covered in bright butterflies the exhibition features the careful and repetitive soundscape of a loom working away. The first room explores the unrivalled natural resources that have provided India the basis for incredible fabrics with examples of dyes and silk cocoons loaned from Kew and Natural History Museum colouring the showcases and the detailed and skilled techniques highlighted by numerous videos. It's an in-depth analysis that would have been a great aid to my GCSE textiles coursework!  
The highlight of the first room is the tent or Bhutiya; a stunning textile that was made to decorate a room during times of festivities and with an interesting provenance discussed on the text panel - according to this it was found on a New York sidewalk in 1994!  

Further sections explore the textiles we would usually associate with an historic textile-based exhibition- the court and religion.  The decadent fabrics are expertly hung to show how important they are in sacred ritual of religion and the court with one wall hanging beautifully displayed on a copper wall and other lavishly adorned fabrics hanging on rolls surrounded by the court dress and a velvet crown of the elite.  

Later rooms luxuriously point to the India's influence and global standing on the trade of fabric demonstrated by a piece of woven fabric from Northern India thought to be roughly 2000 year old. Here the exhibition expresses the need for India to adjust to the needs of the diverse market, appealing to the America's and Japan trade route developed and were maintained.   

The final rooms start to explore the struggle of the textile industry in a changing world with the exploitation of the Indian economy and people by the British leading to the 1890's Swadeshi movement and its influence on Gandhi and Indian nationalism. Prompting the Khadi fabric to become a symbol of resistance worn by nationalists. 

India achieved independence in 1947 (and we're sure to see a whole host of exhibitions referencing this in 2017) and the textiles industry was rebuilt in part due to the popularity and work of Bollywood movies using traditional techniques. the exhibition hosts two of the incredible costumes from one of the most successful Bollywood movies Devda's designed by esteemed fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee - seriously check his stuff out!  
The final section explores how contemporary artists and fashion designers are rethinking traditional techniques and the sari with street photography from photographer Manou.  
Not only was it great to see so much of the V&A collection on display but the exhibition design was detailed and really enhanced the experience many of the text panels used cotton threads to illustrate trade routes, mimic looms and demonstrate information.  

It’s a beautiful exploration into the stunning and exhaustive work of traditional techniques a definite must see before it closes on the 10th January! Check out some of the upcoming events here. 

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