07 January 2016
More than just a celebration of India’s cultural heritage, The Fabric of India exhibition is a record of its political history, in which its textiles industry has played a crucial role.
We begin with the ancient fabrics of the 3rd century, dyed with pomegranate rinds and turmeric (yellow), lac beetle secretions and chay root bark (red), and the famous indigo plant whose name derives from ‘India’. Khadi, the homespun cotton cloth that symbolised the ideological movement founded by Mahatma Gandhi, is given justifiable prominence. The eye-popping opulence of the Mughals is touched on in rich silks of gold and silver brocade. Surprisingly, perhaps, when we think of the riotous colours and extravagances of Bollywood, there’s very little bling. Instead, pride of place goes to Tipu Sultan’s 18th century tent, a portable palace made from 58 square metres of block-printed chintz, painstakingly hand-painted with flowers, which served as the Sultan’s accommodation whenever he went ‘on the road’. There’s also a 17-metre wall hanging from Gujarat, dating back to 1920, intricately embroidered with a procession of elephants, mahouts and soldiers on horseback. Incredibly, it was tossed onto a New York pavement as rubbish some twenty years ago; whoever dumped it would surely kick themselves now…
Spectacularly successful in bringing its fabrics and embroideries to the attention of the world of haute couture, India’s contemporary textile industry is also showcased, along with the astonishing craftsmanship of the subcontinent’s celebrated fashion designers: Manish Arora is one such, with his joyous reinterpretations of the sari alongside his opulent couture creations that have lit up all the major catwalks of the world.
The Fabric of India is a sensual hit of spice colours, sparkling metallics, ornate embroideries, and gasp-worthy artistic masterpieces – a perfect antidote to the British winter.
The Fabric of India, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Ends 10 January 2016.