Anna Tomlinson reviews The Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A.
Walking into the exhibition, I was immediately struck by the warm and bright colours of the fabrics displayed. I was overwhelmed by deep blues, warm reds and bright pinks, and drawn into the story between India’s fabrics and its identity. The exhibition shares a 6,000-year long history and is the first of its kind to take place in London, with many of the pieces themselves on display for the first time.
The exhibition showed fabrics alongside pomegranate rinds and turmeric roots, giving you a sense of where the colour pigments in the textiles were derived from. It also showed, among other processes, videos of the way in which the fabrics are dyed, and how tasar silk is cultivated from silkworm cocoons. The artistry and craftsmanship becomes immediately accessible through the different mediums you’re presented with, and the skill necessary to create the beautiful fabrics leaves you in awe.
The Fabric of India holds your attention, as it leads you through the processes of weaving, with the final products including sacred cloths and religious wall-hangings. These also included the textiles produced for India’s courts; I found the immense detail in the royal peshwaz dress particularly dazzling.
The exhibition also explains globalisation and industrialisation in the context of the textile industry. Describing the history of British colonisation and industrialisation in India, The Fabric of India tells of the reaction in India to produce and buy only Indian products. This history was interestingly relevant to cloths and fabrics; UCL alumnus Mahatma Gandhi, for example, is featured in a video teaching and calling on people to spin and weave their own clothes as a response to British oppression.
Bringing the exhibition full circle, it ends with modern designers showcasing saris with more contemporary designs. These show the intersection between Western and Indian culture more clearly. As the sari is iconic in Indian dress, seeing how it has adapted to modern styling offers an especially insightful way to draw the exhibition to a close.
The exhibition is an escape from the rainy autumn season; its colours and beautifully crafted fabrics are bound to brighten any day.
The Fabric of India exhibition is now showing at the V&A from 3 October 2015 to 10 January 2016.
Featured image: installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, London