The exhibition focuses on the historical and ongoing importance of textile to the economy of India. It traces the origins of India’s natural plant fibres and dyes, through to its place as the world’s largest exporter of fabrics across the globe, trading with China, Africa and the Middle East long before Vasco da Gama claimed the seat route from Europe. Unseen treasures sit alongside everyday objects. Apart from its luxury silks and fine cottons, India’s fabric industry also gave to Britain the words calico, dungarees, gingham, khaki, pyjamas, shawl and sash. Chinz being related to a sanskrit word meaning coloured or spotted. “Fabric was also very tied up with the resistance movement. It was a key symbol of power and protest,” says co-curator Divia Patel
I took the opportunity to visit this exhibition at the V&A recently and it is really very good. A far cry from the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition in the same rooms last summer. And yet, for all its quiet unassuming nature in many ways this is the more appealing. Less about spectacle and more about the craft of textile production, the exhibition includes several short videos showing the laborious techniques used to create the materials on display. Having said that, it is still rather spectacular.
It’s scandalously short-lived, this exhibition – it closes on 10 January 2016 so go see it now while you can.
India’s handmade textiles are embedded in every aspect of its identity. The history of these fabrics date back at least 6000 years. Courtly splendour was proclaimed by sumptuous fabrics, while religious worship still finds expression through sacred cloths. Centuries of global trade have been shaped by the export of Indian textiles and patterns, in demand around the world. These celebrated hand-made textiles even survived the threat of industrialisation, instead uniting India as symbols of power and protest. Today, young designers are adapting traditional making techniques to create exciting new fashion, art and design for a global audience, giving India’s textile history a new relevance in the modern world.