"Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art & Design" in Washington, DC, Closes June 4

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"Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art & Design" in Washington, DC, Closes June 4
Tent hanging (qanat); India, Golconda, Masulipatnam; c. 1700-1750. The Textile Museum Collection 6.129. Acquired by George Hewitt Myers in 1947.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Showcasing nearly 100 masterworks dating from the eighth to the early twentieth centuries, the exhibition and catalog "Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art and Design"--five years in the making--celebrate Indian artists' extraordinary achievements in textile production and design at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum through June 4, 2022.

Artists on the Indian Subcontinent maintain some of the world's most ancient and illustrious textile traditions. Generations of cultivators, weavers, dyers, printers and embroiderers have ingeniously harnessed the region's rich natural resources to create a remarkable range of fine fabrics.

A design-focused interpretive approach provides a fresh perspective on Indian textiles by highlighting the technical and aesthetic virtuosity of their creators as well as the social, cultural, economic and political contexts that informed their design choices. Spanning time, region, technique and levels of patronage, these fabrics are arranged in three thematic sections that correspond to the predominant ornamental elements traditionally used by Indian textile makers: abstract, floral and figurative.

From simply woven stripes and checks to complex narrative scenes requiring many skilled specialists, the designs on these textiles could impart color and beauty, communicate personal and group identity, express deeply felt spiritual beliefs, or render fabrics appropriate for a particular person, place, occasion or consumer market.

Fragment of chintz, coastal southeast India, made for the Dutch market but found in Japan, 1700-1730. Cotsen Textile Traces Study Collection T-2864. Photo by Bruce M. White Photography.

Some of the region’s oldest known textiles feature abstract patterns such as circles, stripes and zigzags. Examples in the exhibition range from a fragment of a block-printed cloth traded to Egypt around the 15th century to intricately embroidered dresses made in present-day Pakistan’s Swat Valley in the 1800s and 1900s.

Woman’s shirt or tunic (kurta); Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan; late 19th or 20th century. Karun Thakar Collection, London.

Floral patterns in Indian textiles became increasingly widespread in the 13th century, and artists excelled in adapting them for global markets. Embroidered caps from Bengal, for example, were fashionable “at home” wear in 18th-century Europe; a man would often don one in the evening after removing his wig.

Man’s embroidered cap, undivided Bengal, for the Western market, 18th century. Karun Thakar Collection, London.

Figurative patterns provide a window into different religious beliefs across South Asia. A 15th-century narrative cloth from Gujarat depicts deities and other figures central to the Jain religion. A shrine cloth from Uttar Pradesh honors Sayyid Salar Mas’ud, a Muslim warrior-saint venerated by Muslims and Hindus alike.

Shrine cloth (kanduri); Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh; early 20th century. Karun Thakar Collection, London.

The limited-edition catalog Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art and Design is available for purchase ($80). The hardcopy book includes essays by leading historians of Indian textiles, including Rosemary Crill, Steven Cohen, Avalon Fotheringham and Sylvia Houghteling. A copy of the catalog may be ordered through the museum's Artisans Gallery at 202-960-5311 or artisansgallery@gwu.edu.

A series of virtual and in-person programs, some organized in collaboration with the Embassy of India, explore themes from the exhibition. Browse upcoming programs.

For the most up-to-date information on the museum's visiting hours, exhibitions and educational programs please check the museum website.

Admission to The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum is free of charge. It is located on GW’s Foggy Bottom campus in Washington, D.C., just blocks away from the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, the White House, Kennedy Center and the National Mall. Galleries are open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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