Picking up the threads
A textile and costume gallery will open at the CSMVS after 15 years
In an untitled poem, the late Marathi writer Shanta Shelke rummages through an old cupboard to find mothballed dresses. One of them is a green Paithani sari with a coconut motif within brocade checks. It was her grandmother’s wedding sari, and whenever Shelke held it close, it reminded her of her grandmother’s “soft, silken caress”.
The poem, in which the sari acts as a memory usher and time machine, greatly inspired co-curator Manisha Nene’s treatment of Indian Textile And Costume, a permanent collection that will open at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai next week.
Nene says the effort is to focus on the emotional value of textiles rather than on the technique: “Like the poem by Shanta Shelke, in which her grandmother’s sari reveals and unfolds memory.”
The collection is divided into various sections, with garments related to childhood, marriage and religious rituals, and royal attire. It has been made possible by a grant from the Union culture ministry and the Praful and Shilpa Shah Foundation.
It will display 70 textile items from the museum’s collection of thousands. One of the historical items to be displayed is a red zabla (worn by infants) and topi worn by Jamsetji Tata. There are also traditional textiles, like the Phulkari from Punjab, Jamdani from Bengal and pashmina from Kashmir.
Along with the textiles, a documentary titled Jhini Jhini, about the importance of clothes from birth to death, will be screened on loop in the Gallery of Textile And Costume. Another documentary, Tana Bana, will show the different techniques of making textiles. An “album of memories” comprising photographs of people in traditional costumes will also be on display.
The textile section returns to the museum after a 15-year gap—the earlier gallery in the main building had to be closed since it didn’t have a climate-controlled area. “Textiles, being organic materials, are very sensitive to light and weather,” says Nene.
The exhibition weaves a dynamic narrative around textiles, mapping the change in styles and techniques due to trade. For example, the Tanchoi sari worn by Parsis uses a Chinese technique of silk weaving. “Around 1856, a person from Surat sent three weavers to China to learn their style of weaving,” says Nene. “Tan means three and Choi was the surname of weavers who were brothers,” she adds. The weavers copied the technique of twill tapestry from the Chinese, so the sari is reversible.
The Chinese influence can also be seen in garo textiles from the North-East, which use Chinese satin and gajji silk and motifs such as peonies, butterflies and peacocks. During the British Raj, the ghagra-choli gave way to the lacy frock.
Art historian B.N. Goswamy, who will inaugurate the gallery on 12 May, says: “The kind of skill we have in this industry—double Ikat (for example)—still astonishes people! Moreover, textile is a metaphor of life. As Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, ‘As we sleep, the loom of life keeps weaving.’”
The Gallery of Textile And Costume will be open to the public from 12 May, 10.15am-6pm (closed on public holidays), at the Museum Extension Building, Second floor, CSMVS, 159-161, MG Road, Fort. Entry,Rs.40 (for children) and Rs.70 (for adults). Click here for details.
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