About two years ago I had the oppurtunity to visit the Textile Museum of Canada and on a personal level it was a wonderful experience. Here is my take:
Upon hearing about my trip to the Textile Musem of Canada, I was excited to see what was is store. In my mind, I had envisioned a large space filled with various textiles from around the worls, mainly used in clothing. However what i had come to see was quite different than I had expected. Much like other museums and art galleries that I have attended in the past, the textile musem was organized into different exhibits that were asscociated with a different theme. They were, "The Blues" curated by Patricia Bentley which was a look at indigo dyes and its effect on textiles throughout the world. Followed by, "Between the Sea and the Dessert" a look at Northwest African and Mediterranean textiles curated by Natalie Nekrassova and a textile-based interactive installation that focused on the personal and communal angst about "death, castration, voracious appetites and consumption" represented through a textile constructed vagina entitled, "Hungry Purse: vagina dentata in late capitalism (2006-07) by Allyson Mitchell. Being in the textile museum brought back memories of my one year at York University. My major was Fine Arts and Cultural Studies and knowing that I was about to learn about the vast origins of various textiles, helped revive my desire and interest to be enlightened.
On a personal level, the textile museum toched me because a lot of the textiles came from places in the world that I have studies in the past. For example, the textile that I first observed was called the "Wrapper" (adire aniko and alibere). It had a crossroads pattern in white with the surrounding material in deep indigo. This textile was made of cotton coming from the Nigerian Yoruba people circa 1968-1971. To achieve the pattern it is tied and stitch resisted then dipped repeatedly in indigo to develop deep shades of blue. This textile is referred to as Adire cloth and it is made into shirts worn by prominent figures of the Yoruba people in Nigeria and emigrants. As my guide explained how the asymmetrical crossroads pattern of the Adire cloth was linked to blues music, I found it extremely fascinating beucase of the origins that blues music is associated with in the western world. In Western Africa, the colour indigo is associated with wealth and prestige and the irregular pattern of the Adire cloth is linked to the "strong, rhytmic offbeat" in West African music. During the 17th and 19th centuries, West African slaves were taken to their homeland leaving all of their posessions behind, being left with nothing but memories of their past. As slaves worked in plantations they would sing spiritual songs native to their land that later developed into what is now known as blues music. The dichotomy between blues music in the western world and what it has derived from in western Africa is something that I found interesting. In Western Africa the connection that their music has to the patterns and indigo dyes in their textiles is associated with high society, while in the United States blues music is assoiated with the lower social class in the southern United States. I found this part of the tour very intriguing becuase previous to this I had not known the in-depth origins of blues music and its close association with indigo dyes used in West African textiles. For many, nlues music may seem like something that derived only from the poor slaves in the deep south of the United States but going on this tour made me learn that it is much deeper than that. It showed me that textiles are more than just what you put on when you get dressed in the morning or use as shelter on a rainy day, they are something with a deep history and meaning that speaks to the time period and culture of its origin.
Textiles are an expression much like any other art form because they relate to soci-economic events, cultural movement and are used as a physical reminder of a given time period. As I continued to walk through "The Blues" exhibit, my guide led our group to a part of the exhibit that focused on the use of indigo dyes in East Asian textiles. My guide described that during World War II, the Japanese relied on cotton imports to construct their economically concious kimonos and I began to think about Japanese Butoh Dance, which is an artistic response to the saddened state of post World War II Japan. My guide explained how indigo was a colour generally worn by labourers and I found the difference between symbolism of indigo in Western Africa compared to that in Japan very interesting. It was fascinating to see how one particular colour could have a distinct meaning in one part of the world and a completely different one across the globe. Blue is often associated with sadness and dreariness therefore I found it very clever that the kimons showcased in the exhibit had ties to World War II Japan becuase of the complete disconnect that it felt from the rest of the world during that time. The textile that caught my eye in this section of the exhibit was an updated silk kimono entitled, Purgami, 2001 created by Korean fibre artist, Chunghie Lee. This kimono used bits of stirng and was part of a series entitled, "No name Woman" a tribute to nameless women who were unrecognized for their daily work in the home. What I loved about this textile was that it related to not only the struggles that woman have dealt whit throughout history but also to the state of World War II Japan. I enjoyed how a textile was used to represent two such notable events and issues in society. The ode that Chunghie Less plays to women in this textile brought back memories of a book that I read entitled, Woman Warrrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. the book focuses on the struggles that the author faced as as Chinese immigrant in the United States trying to find her identity as a woman and within Chinese heritage. Among the women that are focused on in the novel is legendary women warrior Fa Mu Lan as well as a section entitled, "No Name Woman." I found it fascinating how the influences behind this novel and textile parallel one another. It made me realize that a textile can be used as a way of connecting not only culturally but socially as well. The Purugami, 2001 is considered wearable art and serves as an example that textiles go beyond function but have a meaning behind them.
After taking a look at the Asian use of indigo dyes in textiles, we continued thoughout the exhibit and observed the works of contemporary female artists. Among these were quilts made from organic cotton tampons (Nuit Blanche, White Nights, 2006) as well as eye make-up and Vaseline (Leola Le Blanc Orient/To Arrange in orde, 206). These textile pieces were used as a way to express problems and struggles that women face in day to day life. As I looked at the unconventional pieces it made me think of how the exhibit was curated. It had an excellent flow beginning with Africa, going into North America, followed by Asia and post-modernism. The exhibit showed me how textiles are not only influenced by cultural movements and socio-economic events but they serve as a link between various cultures and parts of the world that ties us all together. Textiles are not just a superficial, simplistic ogject; they are spmething with depth that encompasses culture, meanings and intense labour. Learning that the indigo dyeing process was heavily used in so many parts of the world was very intriguing becuase it showed that despite how large the earth may be we are all connected regardless of nationailty, origin or culture. We are people connected by many common denominators and in this case it it textiles.