NEW YORK, NY.-
This winter, the Rubin Museum of Art
presents stunning examples of embroidery from India and Pakistan, areas long known for their beautiful and diverse textiles. Color & Light: Embroidery from India and Pakistan is organized by the Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto (TMC) and is drawn entirely from TMC’s important permanent collection of South Asian textiles.
Ranging from the 18th to the 20th century, the works are divided into sections that address the variety of functions that textiles held—and to a large extent still hold—in the secular and spiritual life of the communities in which they were created. The section “Court and Commerce” includes examples of lavishly embroidered textiles produced by master craftsmen, often in state-owned workshops, for rulers and the elite to reflect their wealth and influence. The section “Pasture, Farm, and Village” explores the role of domestic embroidery. Wedding garments, identified by their brightly colored silk threads and mirrors, are among the textiles typically produced in the home. The remaining works are divided among the sections “Embellishing the Home,” “Embroidery and Identity,” and “Ceremonies and Celebrations.”
Color & Light represents some of the most exquisite examples of embroidery, whether produced in maledominated workshops or by women in the home, from a region that has exported its textiles for more than two thousand years. The intricate patterns, the refraction of light off silk threads, the subtle color changes, and the striking juxtapositions of shapes enchanted Marco Polo in the thirteenth century and continue to inspire awe today.
The ethnic and geographic diversity of present-day India and Pakistan is reflected in the variety of decorative motifs, color combinations, materials, patterns, and stitching techniques used to embellish cloth. In this way, textiles serve as indicators of community or religious affiliations. Embroideries created in keeping with Islamic traditions, for example, are frequently identified by precise and complex geometric patterns. Hindu textiles, on the other hand, often feature naturalistic or highly stylized representational motifs. Embellishments used on all types of textiles include beetle-wing casings, seeds, silk tassels, beads, and metal ornaments.
Though textiles continue to play an important role in the societies in which they have been produced, some of the embroidery traditions represented in Color & Light are no longer practiced or are in danger of disappearing. Much of this change can be attributed to the increase in urbanization, a desire for mainstream fashions, and the increasing availability of inexpensive, machine-made textiles. Conversely, the past three decades have seen the re-emergence of traditional women’s embroidery as an incomegenerating activity and a vehicle for improving women’s education, health, and social equality.