India instantly conjures up the image of incense, colour, music and a vast wealth of elaborately decorated people, palaces and silk bazaars. It is a place of cultural diversity and a rich tradition of craftsmanship, held together by an incredibly strong thread of Indianness that keeps the country united. The craftsmanship of the Indian textile industry has been prized around the globe for centuries and the V&A in London has the greatest collection of India textiles in the world. For the first time ever it has opened its vaults to bring us a resplendent exhibition about Indian fabric, which looks at India’s different traditions of textile making from the third to the twenty-first century. In ‘The Fabric of India’ the Victoria and Albert Museum has put on display over 200 examples of fabric. There are pieces that are over 1,000 years old, others from the seventeenth century that show the opulence of the Mughal court alongside the latest designs and creations from our modern day.
The exhibition showcases the different types of fabrics and craftsmanship found across the sub-continent. It explores regional handicraft techniques and the individual styles of different areas and cultural groups. It is a feast for the eyes since almost every region has its own textile speciality, whether it is in weave, dye, print or embroidery and we are shown exquisite examples of Ikat dyeing from Odisha; shal weaving from Kashmir; and block printing from Rajasthan, just to name a few.
Woven into the visual splendour of the exhibition is the complex story of the importance of Indian fabric to the country’s identity. It is the spinning wheel that is at the centre of India’s national flag and part of the exhibition explores the significance of weaving and cloth to the countries social history by focusing on India’s Independence movement; then there is a whole room dedicated to religion and cloth; whilst in yet another room the influence of India’s textile design, manufacturing and trade is shown mapped out across the globe; then in the final rooms we get to look at the more recent use of material and fabric in India’s modern art movement, installations and fashion.
The exhibition is a must for anyone with an interest in India; textile design; fashion; or the importance of cloth in India’s social history. The exhibition shows how India’s tradition of textile making has shaped the nation and the wider world. It gives us a glimpse at the past, present and future of textiles and introduces us to the new generation of Indian designers who are re-discovering their rich heritage and traditional craftsmanship. These new artists and designers are re-imagining these older traditions for the modern world and creating a new generation of textiles for the global consumer who eagerly awaits the next new thing.
The Fabric of India exhibition is now on at the Victoria & Albert until 10 January 2016. For more information about visiting the exhibition go to: http://www.vam.ac.uk/