NEWARK, N.J. – Objects ranging from theatrical and political costumes to architectural textiles and presentation cloths will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the Newark Museum, showcasing a wide range of construction techniques used throughout the Asian continent. “Dramatic Threads: Textiles of Asia” opens March 14 and runs through February 2019.
Dating from the 19th to the early 20th centuries, most of these textiles are on view to the public for the first time. Curated by Katherine Anne Paul, Ph.D., Curator of the Arts of Asia, world-renowned embroidery scholar Young Yang Chung, Ph.D., also generously contributed her expertise and distinct voice. Dr. Chung’s insights are shared with visitors to deepen understanding of how amazing visual effects were created through threads. Works featured in Dramatic Threads can be found throughout the Asian galleries—China, Japan, Korea, Nepal and Tibet—and are identified by a unique text label.
Weaving and stitching techniques employed to fashion the works in the exhibition have been passed down for countless generations — but always with constant small modifications over time. The imagery in these textiles communicates narrative stories and auspicious emblems that express cultural identity and announce different lifestyles. Some embroidery stitches may be read like signatures, revealing where they were sewn. A variety of decorative woven textiles features a range of construction methods, including virtuoso brocades, and complex slit-woven tapestries alongside more basic twill and plain weaves. Embroidery and other needlework techniques add surface decoration and layers of meaning to the structure of the fabric.
The materials used — gold, silk, wool, cotton — all hold keys to understanding regional access to resources; weighing the value and desirability of luxury imports compared with local production. Cultural preferences for specific color palettes and subject matter intertwine with a range of techniques and underscore distinct regional histories. However, many textiles also demonstrate shared purposes across cultures, as gift covers, interior decorations and dress worn for special occasions.
“In our post-industrialized world, we have lost some of the wonder at the time, effort and ingenuity it takes to create spectacular textiles. Dr. Chung perhaps said it best with the title of her book. These works are best described as ‘painting with a needle,’ or perhaps even ‘painting with a loom,'” said Paul.
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