If you grew up in a South Asian household, chances are ikat weaves, chikan embroidery and zardozi embellishment were a beautiful but somewhat taken for granted part of your life and wardrobe.
The Fabric of India exhibition (on until January 10 2016 date at the V&A museum) tells the story behind South Asian textiles and embroidery through the display of over 200 objects dating from the 3rd to the 21st century. The breathtaking sight of Manish Arora’s butterfly dress greets you at the entrance – and the exhibition rolls out with a sensory display of early dyeing techniques which used pomegranate rinds, turmeric, chay root bark and indigo to achieve the vibrant yellows, blues and reds (and combinations thereof) so characteristic of Indian textiles.
There are beautiful Mughal dresses on display, as well as Tipu Sultan’s spectacular 18th century ‘summer palace’ tent, the lengths of which apparently took V&A staff months to hoist. There’s a fascinating exploration of the significance of textiles – particularly khaadi – to Gandhi’s independence movement, and of the impact of Britain’s industrialised textile production on India’s market. We also loved the videos of the processes of dyeing, cotton production, spinning silk, and aari embroidery.
There are also some particularly dazzling moments – a Kashmiri shawl from the 19th century which features a detailed embroidered map of Srinagar. A muslin border from 19th century Hyderabad embellished with green iridescent beetle wings (shown above). And a talismanic shirt from the 15th century inscribed with the entire text of the Qur’an.
The exhibition culminates with examples of how modern Indian designers are interpreting these centuries old techniques. There is classic design – the loveliest sari from the chikan-maestros Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, and the obligatory Sabyasachi bridal (not that we’re complaining). And more contemporary interpretations – a to die-for sari by Raw Mango, a digital ajrak jacket by Rajesh Pratap Singh, and our favourite – the wondrous monochrome city dress by Rahul Mishra. If you like beautiful things, you’ll love this exhibition.
Where: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
When: 3 October 2015 – 10 January 2016
Website: V&A Museum
Photos: V&A Museum
Posted: 11 November 2015