The Fabric of India
3 Oct 2015 – 10 Jan 2016
Unravelling the technical mastery and ingenuity of Indian textiles – from ancient fragments to contemporary fashion.
As part of the V&A's Festival of India, this exhibition explores the rich cultural history of traditional handmade Indian textiles. Beginning with raw products such as silk, cotton and wool, viewers are taken on a journey through one of the country's key industries, revealing dye processes using natural products such as pomegranate and indigo, as well as complex weaving and embroidery.
Approximately 200 handmade objects show the huge diversity of fabric production, examining how different textiles have been used to express wealth, power, faith and political dissent through the ages. Religious tableaus include Hindu narrative cloth dating from around 1570 depict the diety Vishnu, and a 16th-century Islamic talismanic shirt inscribed with verses from the Quran in ink and gold paint.
Industrialisation also played an important – if devastating – role in the national market. Reversing the trend for Indian exports that had been in such high demand since the 17th century, Europe's cheap machine-manufactured imitations flooded the retail sector, threatening to destroy the handmade industry.
This damage to the economy led to traditional fabrics symbolising indigenous identity and resistance to colonial rule. Mahatma Gandhi encouraged this association, supporting home production of spinning and weaving to produce a cloth known as Khadi. The Fabric of India displays a selection of contemporary clothing using this cloth, showing that its symbolism remains relevant to this day.
A lavish tent used by the infamous ruler Tipu Sultan of the Kingdom of Mysore has been fully erected in the gallery, allowing visitors inside to examine the incredible decoration up close.