This past weekend I went to see V&A’s major textile exhibition ‘Fabric of India’ on it’s closing day. Considering it was the last day of the exhibition, the crowds did not deter me from seeing one of the biggest shows of the year at the museum.
Showcasing textiles from the 3rd century up until the present day is not a small task as one might imagine. The exhibition explored the different techniques used within different regions in the sub-continent, the importance of textiles within history and religion as well as the impact of materials socially, economically and politically on a domestic and international scale.
I feel that the themes the exhibition attempted to explore were so big and varied that I often found details were overlooked. For example, many of the exhibition texts had identified materials to have come from “Either Ahmedabad or Surat”, “Either North India or Hyderabad”. This might come across as a minor detail but I believe it to be a vital part to a visitor’s experience. The curators have a responsibility to ensure visitors are given correct information. Yes, it can be difficult at times when handling age old objects to correctly identify where they are from, but would it not have been better to address the fact that the objects’ locality are not easily identifiable rather than make approximations? North India and Hyderabad are completely different places with different and distinct styles in fashion throughout history. North India itself is such a vague point of reference. Punjab has a completely different and distinct style to that of it’s neighbour Rajasthan. It was not only the lack of detail with object locality but also the lack of detail with religion. An introductory text to a new room identified India being home to Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and Christians but completely ignored that it is also home to Sikhs. Additionally, one object illustrated the well-known story from the Mahabharata of Krishna dancing upon a serpant’s head and defeating the demon. The exhibition label however, identified the story belonging to Ramyana – a story set within a different time era to that of the Mahabharata and one that has nothing to do with Krishna.
Another factor which struck me is that a large majority of the objects on display were all from Gujarat, only two items from the 200 that were on display were from Punjab. Of course it would be almost impossible to have an equal amount of objects from all the regions within the sub-continent, but given that there is a large Punjabi population within London and the UK, I thought the museum would have done more to address this.
|Courtesy of V&A 2015|
Aside from the overlooked details, on the whole I did enjoy parts of the exhibition. I felt it gave a fascinating insight into the intricate and detailed hand work, that I often take for granted when I get dressed in Indian clothes. Engulfing the space, Tipu Sultan’s tent was also another highlight of the exhibition. The room felt somehow tranquil and other-worldly like when I approached the tent.
Fabric of India had so much potential to be a great exhibition but it was the repeated lack of attention to detail which disappointed me.