A richly varied day in Washington D.C. December 8, 2005
by Valerie Justin
The three textile exhibits at the Textile Museum and the Ottoman Costumes at the Sackler Gallery provided a richly varied day in Washington, D.C. The “richly” applies particularly to the extraordinary opulence of Style and Status: Imperial Costumes From Ottoman Turkey.
Read, if you can, the review by Holland Cotter in the December 5th N.Y.Times. When he describes the “power look favored in 16th century Turkey” he calls the fashion for oversized overstuffed outerwear, “the Phat Farm effect turning a person of average build into a walking sport utility vehicle.”
The more than 60 pieces of sumptuous silk and metallic-thread embroidery are almost all 16th century and from the Topkapi in Istanbul. Silk clothes such as these provided a convenient way to show off the wealth and culture of the grand and cosmopolitan center that Istanbul had become.
For textiles and carpet collectors and afficiandos, the continuity of the basic style of clothing from its Central Asian Timurid and earlier roots becomes obvious in the caftans and boots of the exhibit “Silk & Leather – Splendid Attire of Nineteenth-Century Central Asia”. That exhibit, small and very fine, was guest-curated by John T. Wertime. The exhibition’s fascinating pieces are from the 19th and early 20th century but the wall labels refer to sources in wall paintings, miniature paintings and sculptures and coinage as early as 2000 B.C. and after a gap in information another period in the early A.D. centuries.
The 38 objects are beautiful; made from Uzbeki resist-dyed ikat silk and embellished with couching and the stitches of local womens’ embroidery work Before the Uzbekis raised their own silkworms, silk had been acquired by the pastoral nomads from the Chinese. Silk became an obsession for them and obviously remained obsessional up through the Ottoman period. The silks in the Ottoman exhibit were mainly of Turkish manufacture; (the velvets, also prominent in many of the garments, were largely of Italian origin). Also of interest to rug enthusiasts, the various versions of the cintamani design are displayed in a series of golden garments; enormous gleaming kaftans woven of golden silk and embroidered heavily in gold-wrapped threads. one with the cintamani design of three balls in a triangle. another with the curving wave above one ball- three of them in a huge showcase lit from above. Here is one of them as seen in the exhibit announcement.
The Textile Museum Silk & Leather is subtitled Splendid Attire of Nineteenth-Century Central Asia – An Exhibition in Honor of Caroline McCoy-Jones. In addition to the caftans the ancient traditions survive in caps, hats, boots and belts worn by men and women, girls and boys. These are shown along with their accessories, all embroidered. The work of the Tajiks, shown in a child’s tunic and a cap of saturated indigo and deep red, is striking in its dramatic simplicity.Long, narrow belt-like embroideries are called braid covers but the labels (and catalogue essay) are unable to explain how they were used in girls’ hairdos. Can anyone help John Wertime solve this puzzle? The exhibit catalogue is available from the Textile Museum, 2320 S St.,NW, Washington, DC 20008.
Two other exhibits are currently at the Textile Museum; Rozome Masters of Japan (until February 12, 2006) displays hangings by contemporary artists in this wax-resist dyeing technique. The technique has existed in Japan from the 7th c. with the largest early collection found in the Shoso-in Repository in Nara . Rozome artists now are studio artists working as painters with personal styles covering the spectrum of styles and experimenting with the techniques of brush-applied wax and dye directly on the cloth. Textiles from the TM collection complement the contemporary installation displaying a variety of textiles of various periods with the other traditional Japanese techniques of wax resist: bound resist, stencil resist and paste-line resist.
Gods and Empire: Huari Ceremonial Textiles (until January 15, 2006) would be a splendid exhibit for newcomers to see as an introduction to the wizardry of early South American textile art. Although very specialized and curated by Ann Pollard Rowe, the TM’s expert Curator of Western Hemisphere Collections, this can be approached for the sheer joy of the iconography and amazing technical mastery of this 8th-10th century culture. These are tapestry-woven textiles probably made for religious and ceremonial use. One of these, in fragmentary condition, has been reassembled to its full loom size of 10’wideX2’ high, and a computer produced print on the wall above shows how the full textile could have appeared. The section shown above shows the face of what might have been a deity figure flanked by winged animal-headed attendants. No records from before the Spanish conquest are available to interpret the complex iconography of these textiles but analogies to the later Inca religion are suggested. These textiles, woven in the two phases of Huari culture included, are exceptional fine; the condition of the cloth and the dyes too are exceptional. They are awesome and great fun to observe.
December 17, 2005 Valerie Justin
Web site: Vanishing Textiles