Curators: Yael Rosenfield and Michael Schuster

Exhibition Dates: October 29, 2017—February 11, 2018

When people imagine India, they often envision a world of vibrant colorful textiles with rich and complex designs. This seemingly romantic fantasy is actually based upon reality. South Asia has been producing vibrant textiles with intricate patterns for millennia. Many of the patterns were originally social signifiers of status, community, tribe, occupation, religion, stage in life, or gender, while other patterns are enjoyed for their aesthetic quality. With the expansion of global trade from the 17th to 19th centuries, textiles from the sub-continent could be found throughout the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In the modern context, textile artisans from India readily borrow designs from thousands of years of diverse regional images. What then are the secrets of these dazzling textiles? What makes them so irresistible? This exhibition focuses on the resist dyeing processes that have made Indian textiles prized by people throughout the world. The textiles in this exhibition will be presented in four distinct categories: block-print, kalamkari, tie-dye, and ikat.

Until the late 19th century all dyes used on textiles were derived from natural sources – plant, mineral, and animal, requiring the use of mordants that bind and fix certain dyes to the cloth fiber. Resists, on the other hand, were used to block the dye from penetrating certain design elements on the textile. Used together on Indian block-printed, hand painted (kalamkari), tie-dyed and ikat woven both mordants and resists and natural dyes contributed to the creation of these popular textiles, adding to their rich coloring, wash-ability and fastness. Indian artisans were known as master dyers, and it is thanks to them that India became a leader in textile production. Block-printed and painted textiles share similar techniques used in their creation: the main difference is that for block-prints hand carved blocks are used to transfer mordants and resists to the cloth, whereas in kalamkari a ‘kalam’ or ‘pen’ is needed. Diverse regions in India have developed their own methodologies and styles, a heritage that has been handed down over generations. Each type of resist method is characterized by its own customs and iconography.

“The processes of resist dyeing allow for beautifully elaborate Indian textiles and more importantly result in manifestations of material culture reflecting the complexities of Indian traditions.” –Michael Schuster, East-West Gallery Curator