African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

img_4539-min

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…

 

Kutch textiles: Tangalia & Patola weaving

 Surendranagar village

Surendranagar

 

After days of visiting numerous textiles artisans from different tribal communities in Kutch, I was feeling quite overwhelmed. I am no expert on Indian textiles, and after arriving in Kutch, I was surprised by the variety of textiles traditions being practised in just one region. From embroidery to weaving, blockprinting and natural dyeing… every tribal community specialises in one particular (or more) tradition that has been passed down the generations. Many small villages are somehow well-known for an ancient craft or textiles-related tradition, which is quite incredible in this day and age. When you visit these villages, you almost feel like you are entering a time warp… and you can imagine how life used to be hundreds of years ago. The people we encountered in these villages are not rich, but they seem happier (and friendlier) than the inhabitants in big cities; life in these villages is slow and relaxed.

 

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 Surendranagar

 

In Kutch’s Surendranagar district, there is a rare 700-year-old indigenous craft native to the region. Tangalia (Tangaliya/Tangalio) is a weave technique practised by the Dangasia community. Surendranagar district has one of the largest handloom clusters in Gujarat, and tangalia can be seen in Bajana, Wadhwan, Sayla, and other villages in this region.

The Tangalia weavers are adept at adding extra knots on the weft which create motifs and figures in a dotted pattern on the woven fabric. Besides dots, other geometric patterns like circles, straight lines, hyperbolic or parabolic designs etc are often seen on these woven textiles. Using this technique, artisans weave shawls, stoles and wraparound skirts worn by women of the Bharwad shepherd community. The single Ikat done at various places in this district, including Somasar and Sayla, creates a less expensive version of the ultra-rich double Ikat Patolas of Patan. Traditionally, black sheep and camel wool is used as the raw material, though cotton and other materials were later introduced for the contemporary market.

 

Tangalia weaving

Tangalia weaving

Tangalia weaving  Tangalia weaving

Tangalia weaving

Tangalia weaving  Tangalia weaving

Tangalia weaving

Dahyabhai Motibhai Parmar’s studio

 

In Bajana, we visited the studio of a Tangalia weaver, Dahyabhai Motibhai Parmar, who has been practising this craft for over 30 years. We learned that Dahyabhai’s family has been weaving tangalia textiles for Bharvad Shepherds for the last 2-3 centuries. However, Dahyabhai did not have any finished woven Tangalia shawl to show us at his studio, so we wandered around the village, and soon found a home/shop that selling Tangalia shawls in various colours and designs. The prices of these shawls are extremely reasonable, and I doubt you could find handmade woven pieces at these prices outside of these villahes.

 

Tangalia weaving

weaving

weaving

Woven Tangalia shawls

 

In the nearby Patan, the medieval capital of Gujarat, it is famous not only for Rani ki vav (an UNESCO World Heritage Site), but also for its Patola weaving technique. Patola is an ancient double Ikat weave (meaning there is no reverse side to it, and can be worn from both sides) that involves intricate and complex process of tie-dyeing on the warp and weft before weaving. Patola saris (made of silk) used to be worn only by royalty and aristocracy, so they were (are) seen as luxury items. The weaving technique is a closely guarded family tradition, and there are only three families left in Patan that can weave these beautiful and expensive double ikat saris, which can take six months to one year to make.

About 900 years ago in 1143 A.D., around 700 craftsmen from the Salvi community in Karnataka and Maharashtra were brought by king Kumarpal of the Solanki dynasty (who then ruled Gujarat, parts of Rajasthan and Malwa) to his court in Patan. These craftsmen lived in Jalna, situated in southern Maharashtra, and were considered to be the finest craftsmen of Patola.

 

patola museum

patola weave  patola weave 

patola weave

patola weave

 

In 2014, the Patan Patola Museum, a private museum run by Patan’s Salvi family opened its doors to the public. The three-storey museum documents the history of the Patan Patola, which combines techniques of tyeing, dyeing and weaving. Here, you can watch demonstrations by master weavers, and see rare ikat collection from India, Japan, Guatemala, Bali and Kalimantan. And if you want to splash out, you can also find a small shop on the top floor selling patola saris.

 

 

Kutch textiles: Vankar Vishram Valji, the Indigo dyer & weaver

Vankar Vishram Valji  Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji indigo dye

Vankar Vishram Valji  Vankar Vishram Valji

*Please do not use my blog photos without consent.

 

One of the most fascinating studio visits in Kutch was a trip to master weaver, Vankar Shamji Vishram‘s indigo-dyeing and weaving studio in a village called Bhujodi. Shamji is the son of Shri Vishram Valji Vankar, who won the India’s prestigious National Award for weaving in 1974. Shamji started weaving under the guidance of his father at the age of 15 and has been running the studio for over 20 years. The Vankar community are renowned for their weaving traditions, and they often collaborate with the Rabari community who are known for their spinning and embroiderery to make beautiful shawls. Now Shamji and his family train and employ around 60 famiies and 90 hand loom weavers in Bhujodi to preserve the traditional craft.

Soon after we arrived at Shamji’s family home/studio, he started to explain to us his organic indigo-dyeing process, and I was pleased to learn that he only uses natural ingredients found locally. The process of indigo dyeing requires warm and stable temperature for fermentation to take place, hence, the underground indigo vats provide the suitable environment for it. Another important ingredient –alkaline– is extracted from cattle’s urine and dung (ammonia), which undoubtedly is abundance in India.

 

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji  Vankar Vishram Valji

 

What I like about Shamji‘s studio is that since it is also his family home, so family members and artisans all work on different tasks around the spacious home studio. It has an open and authentic feel to the place, and visitors can wander from one weaving area to another to observe the spinning and weaving process.

 

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji  Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

 

Their high quality woven products brought them important clients like Fabindia, Cottage Emporium, and Nalli, as well as specialist shops from overseas. Again, all of us couldn’t resist trying on their beautiful shawls and scarves at prices that are about 1/4 of what you would pay in the U.K.

 

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

 

Before we left, we were greeted by Shamji‘s mother, who kindly allowed us to take photos of her traditional costume and incredible jewellery. We were told that her silver ankle bands weigh about 1 kilo – Imagine trying to run with them on! Amazing.

After visiting several artisans’ studios in Kutch, it made me rethink my shopping habits – buying directly from the artisans completely change my relationship with the products. There are memories and stories behind the products, therefore I am likely to cherish them more than items bought from a highstreet shop. If we all change the way we shop, I believe it would certainly bring about positive changes in the future.

 

Vankar Vishram Valji  Vankar Vishram Valji

Vankar Vishram Valji

Bhujodi

Vankar Vishram Valji

Bhujodi

Vankar Vishram Valji

 

 

Burmese crafts: bamboo & textiles weaving

burmese bamboo weaving

Bamboo factory

 

Bamboo is a material that is widely available and used in Myanmar. The sustainable and versatile material is used to build houses, scaffolding, make woven walls, furniture and basketry etc.

We visited a bamboo factory in Mandalay, and it was interesting to see how the hollow and tall bamboo shoots can be transformed into thin strips to be woven into all kinds of products using quite primitive tools.

 

burmese bamboo weaving

burmese bamboo weaving

burmese bamboo weaving

burmese bamboo weaving

burmese bamboo weaving

Visiting a bamboo factory in Mandalay

 

burmese bamboo weaving

burmese bamboo weaving

Bamboo furniture, homeware, baskets and footballs are sold in the streets

 

bamboo house Burma

bamboo house Burma

bamboo toilet Burma  bamboo hut toilet Burma

1st & 2nd rows: A house made of bamboo; Last row: An eco toilet hut made of wood and bamboo

 

burmese brooms  burmese mat

burmese carpet

Top left: Brooms made of bamboo and grass; Top right and bottom: woven coloured mats

 

After the visit to the bamboo factory, we visited Thein Nyo silk weaving workshop in Amarapura. Since Amarapura is a former royal city, hence it has a long silk-weaving heritage. Patterned longyis, scarves, cushion covers, handbags and other textile goods are made and sold in the shop next to the workshop.

 

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory  burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

Thein Nyo silk weaving workshop in Amarapura

 

Around Inle Lake, the ancient craft of lotus weaving has survived and we were immensely fascinated by this unique material. We visited a workshop and watched the demonstration of how a weaver skillfully drew out thin and delicate lotus fibres from the cut stems. Amazing.

 

inle lake weaving factory

inle lake weaving factory

burmese weaving factory  burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory  burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

inle lake weaving factory

inle lake weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving factory  burmese weaving factory

Lotus and silk workshop around Inle Lake

 

Lotus is a plant notably related to Buddhism, thus the robes made of lotus were offered to Buddhist monks in the old days. Since this weaving technique is fairly time-consuming, most of the products on sale now are mixed with silk, making them more affordable than items made from pure lotus.

However, due to lack of government support and infrastructure, it is extremely difficult for these products to be exported out of Myanmar, and so they are sold mostly to tourists.

 

burmese weaving factory

burmese weaving

Padong tribal (long-neck) woman weaving around Inle Lake

 

burmese embroidery

burmese embroidery

Tapestry and embroidery workshop in Mandalay

 

During this trip, I was quite astonished by the variety of traditional arts and crafts that have been preserved in Myanmar. It is a shame that most of the beautifully crafted products are not available outside of Myanmar. Since Myanmar is changing rapidly, I hope that the traditional craft industry can survive and flourish one day like Thailand and Vietnam.

 

burmese lace weaving  burmese lace weaving

burmese lace weaving

Lace artisans and lace merchandise sold around Inle Lake