Courtesy of The Textile Museum, Washington
© The Whitworth Art Gallery
indigo, eucalyptus and cochineal. Its complexities will astound the most accomplished weaver. Similar in splendor are three scarves woven by Aranya Crafts (Bangladesh) and Darshan Shah (West Bengali, India) and dyed in Aqualeaf Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul and Lucy Goffin. The fabric’s translucence and the pale hues achieved with this method results in a rare aqueous beauty. Do not be misled however, the exhibition continues, in the upper gallery where the most striking work is displayed. The light and airiness of the space has a spiritual quality appropriate for the specially commissioned “Blue Art”. Hiroyuki Shindo's Shindigo Space, 2006, is defined by the tension between his textile sails, Shidigo Shibori, suspended like ephemeral beams of light and shadow and his Shindigo Balls that sit like contained moments diverting the path of the viewer. Careful meandering leads to the intense vision of Shihoko Fukumoto’s masterfully dyed triptych, Between East and West, 2003, composed of The Universe (banner), The Plough (chair) and The Firmament (carpet). Fukumoto explores new territory here, using cotton velvet for the first time and upholstering an ornate Victorian chair, said to represent a Western design sensibility. Fukumoto’s innovative technique requires 30 to 50 meticulous applications of dye, rinsing between each dipping to produce the luminous transition from pure white to the deep rich indigo. She claims only Japanese indigo can achieve such expansive gradation. The effect instills in the viewer a reverence for the depth and clarity of her work. Like looking at the infinite distance of an evening sky; one can only remain fixed, lost in its arresting beauty. ••• Laura Sherrif 08 Funeral Cloth (‘hinggi’), 2000, Indonesia, warp ikatwoven cotton dyed with indigo and morinda red. 09 Detail, Man’s robe, boubou lomasa brodé, 1880-1920, hand-woven indigo-dyed embroidered cotton
The Textile Museum, Washington, 2 February-8 July 2007, www.textilemuseum.org
passionate, powerful and ready to celebrate a second rite of passage with head held high. Where these examples of red were overt, sexy, dominant, other works were more careful in how they han-
Rebecca A. T. Stevens, Curator for Red has constructed a powerful exhibition. Transcending the categorizing of textiles by technique, material, cultural origin or historical era, Stevens interrogates the essence of red, 'arguably the world's most significant color', and certainly the colour most deeply rooted in the collective psyche of humankind. Constrained by the modest proportion of the upper gallery at the Museum, Steven's curatorial strategy was to seek a small number of key textile pieces, and to place them within the space in such a way as to set up cross-referential meanings. Works span history: the oldest 2,500 years old and the most recent only five. In each, we can appreciated what Amy Butler Greenfield, author of A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire calls ‘the events and emotions at the core of the human condition: danger and courage, revolution and war, violence and sin, desire and passion, even life itself.’ Echoing Valerie Steele's interest in the potency of the red dress, three such garments are included or notably absent in the exhibition. The Beverley Semmes Red Dress (1992) was omitted because the Museum's walls were not tall enough for this gargantuan piece. The work is represented in a video, but somehow that it needed to inhabit a mega-space testifies to that work's essential potency and it resonated for me in the show as much by not being there… The Peggy Jennings designed dress with jacket, however, was impactful by its presence. Designed for a second marriage, this silk and machine-made lace ensemble spoke authoritatively to the Western cultural icon of the virginal white wedding dress, proclaiming the wearer as
dled red's potency. In the Heian (794-1185) and Edo (1600-1868) periods in Japan, wearing red was forbidden for ordinary citizens, and chic city dwellers wore red hidden as undergarments to enjoy its glamour, danger and illegality. An early 20th–century kimono in austere black has a tantalising slash of crimson brilliance within each sleeve. Red's talismanic properties are also activated in an early 20th century possibly Macedonian tunic, where red embroidery around the neck, sleeve and hem openings ward off the evil eye and protect against evil spirits. And in contemporary terms, there is something of the talisman as well as the symbol of remembrance and human unity in the Aids Awareness red ribbon also exhibited. Human desire to paint or dye the true and magnificent reds of the nature was thwarted for centuries. The importance of Mexican cochineal, and its affect on textile production in Europe is best illustrated through a sumptuous silk velvet Ottoman floor covering or nihale. A deep purple red was achieved by use of this imported dyestuff, once second only in value to silver. The invention of cheaper synthetic dyestuffs in the 19th century destroyed the cochineal market, but did not undermine the significance of the colour. Stevens notes the vast range of shades – scarlet, vermillion, maroon, crimson, fire-engine, pillar-box – and the multiple meanings they carry and she emphasizes how red fabric is used universally
to ‘underscore personal status, celebrate love and beauty, protect against evil, promote good fortune and mark life cycle passages.’ ••• Dr Catherine Harper 10 Border Fragment, Nasca, Peru 50 BCE - AD 200
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