Today I visited The Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A, London which opened in October 2015 and which in true fashion, I managed to catch on the final day in January!
The exhibition captures the rich textile history of India, artefacts of which have been found to date back to a staggering 6000 years ago.
The exhibition began with a showcase of all the unique plants and fibres which create the dye and yarn. Pashmina from the underside of goats fur and beetle wings used for embroidery embellishment.
It then took you through the craftsmanship from weaving to print blocking, each done with such intricate detail and craftsmanship. There were short videos showing artisans carving wooden stamps and others embroidering at the speed of lightning by hand.
After seeing this you were then guided through a dark tunnel which then opened up into a vast room featuring a huge tent which the Mughals of 16th century india commissioned to seek coolness in the hot summer months. After seeing the detail and time it took to create intricate patterns in the previous section it was staggering to see this huge tent featuring the same level of detail all over it. It must have taken thousands if not hundreds of thousands of man hours to make.
Following on from this was a huge map showing when and where the export of Indian textiles took place. By the 19th Century it had become a global export, going to everywhere from North America to West Africa to Japan.
However, during the Industrial Revolution the demand for Indian textiles and the skills of India’s craftsmen wained as textiles could be produced faster and more cheaply in Europe and America. Gandhi began his political campaign to save the cottage industries of India by wearing only Khadi cotton. A cotton which he encouraged all Indians to wear / make from their local artisans. He would often deliver speeches whilst weaving the cotton and the spinning wheel became the Indian National Congresses symbol. Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Indian prime minister) backed Gandhi but also believed that the future lay with mass industrialisation. When India gained independence, Nehru raised the flag for the first time – it was made from Khadi cotton, featuring the Ashoka Chakra – symbolic of the spinning wheel.
The final exhibits featured breathtaking modern Indian textiles by Indian and other fashion designers from around the world.
The two main highlights for me were the striking butterfly dress by Manish Arora and a small piece of intricately embroidered blanket which was 2000 years old.
I’m not sure if the exhibition will ever appear again so hopefully this gives a small insight into the beauty and wonder of the Fabric of India.