Arts Exhibition: Irresistible Resist: The Art of Indian Dyes and Design


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When: Oct 29 2017 (All day) until Feb 11 2018 (All day)
Where: East-West Center Gallery, John A. Burns Hall, 1601 East-West Road

The East-West Center Arts Program presents


Irresistible Resist: The Art of Indian Dyes and Design

Curators: Yael Rosenfield and Michael Schuster
Installation Design: Lynne Najita
Assistant Curator: Annie Reynolds
Coordinator: Eric Chang
Photographers: Gayle Goodman and Yael Rosenfield

Click here to download the exhibition handout.

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: blockprint, kalamkari, (hand-painted), 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. Mordants, resists, and natural dyes contributed to the creation of these popular textiles, adding to their rich coloring, wash-ability and color 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 hand-painted textiles share similar techniques used in their creation: the main difference is that block-prints use hand-carved blocks to transfer mordants and resists to the cloth, whereas in kalamkari a kalam, or pen, is used. Diverse regions in India have developed their own methodologies and styles, a heritage that has been handed down over generations.



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