The thing about living in London is that I’m constantly finding out about places and events I’ve never heard of. Although I was a student at UCL, just around the corner from the School of Oriental and African Studies, I’d never been to the Brunei Gallery – until yesterday.
The reason for going was an exhibition called World Eco-Fibre and Textile [WEFT – geddit?] Art, organised by Society Atelier Sarawak of Malaysia. The aim of the exhibition is to show how traditional techniques, including ikat, shibori, weaving, dyeing and printing are being used and developed by contemporary textile artists around the world.
The upper level starts with explanations of techniques. There are particularly good descriptions and samples of Indian embroidery by Asif Shaikh of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Most are mounted on a karchob – a wooden, horizontal, floor-mounted frame that is large enough to let several people work on a piece at the same time. Stunning pieces included aari (chain stitch done using an awl rather than a needle) in single-ply silk and kamdhani (embroidery using badla, or metal thread).
Metal thread was also used to embroider dots onto a piece of silk georgette indigo bandhani.
And there were some traditional nomadic QashQai felt jackets from the Semiron region of Iran, made from the wool of local sheep and goats. This was felt used for function rather than form – they were really thick and heavy, with the arms totally enclosed so that they resembled penguin flippers!
Downstairs is a wonderful selection of contemporary items – I’m just picking out a few of my favourites here.
Edric Ong, who curated the exhibition, is the President of Society Atelier Sarawak, and much of his work is featured, including some beautiful handspun, handwoven silk shawls dyed with ketapang leaves and mangrove tree bark using itajime clamping techniques. He also showed some hand-stamped indigo leaves on silk and cotton, a shibori bound scarf, and even jewellery made from plaited pandanus leaves.
There was also some wonderful contemporary shibori work, both stitched and tied, by Aranya Natural, a community development project in Kerala, India (sorry, no photos, as the pieces were in a case and difficult to shoot in low light). They specialise in natural dyes, and achieved some fantastic colours.
The focus on natural yarns and dyes meant there was a lot of indigo, from Hiroyuki Shindo’s Indigo Mountain series and Japanese recycled boro ranru jackets to Chinese Hmong/Miao indigo batik on handwoven hemp.
There was even some contemporary kantha work, including a piece of featuring lots of circles that reminds me of my turtle project, and a Bengali piece that included couching as well as running stitch.
As you might have noticed, I’ve just focused here on the work that reflects my (current) obsessions of felt, shibori, indigo and embroidery, but there are lots of other lovely pieces, from exquisite horsehair jewellery and handwoven recycled leather to pineapple fibre shawls and batik sarongs. Well worth a visit.