Indian and Bangladeshi fabric display leaves students in awe

HISTORY. The beautiful textiles now on display in the Drake Art Gallery are filled with history. 10th grade history students have made visits during their classes as they focus on colonial relations in the Indian subcontinent.
HISTORY. The beautiful textiles now on display in the Drake Art Gallery are filled with history. 10th grade history students have made visits during their classes as they focus on colonial relations in the Indian subcontinent.
Greyson Sale

Beautiful, ornate fabric hanging perfectly still in the light. The colors flare out vibrantly and the patterns are like mazes of euphoria, stimulating a plethora of emotions. The passion behind the craft is clearly evident.

The fabric, Indian and Bangladeshi-style textiles, are everything and more than meets the eye. They are channels for recording history, mythology, and stories.

This collection of textiles recently became the latest installment of the Drake Art Gallery. However, unlike previous displays, these pieces serve as more than art. As highlighted by the fact-stuffed handouts near the front, the informative signs around the gallery, and 10th-grade history’s in-class “field trips,” the textiles carry with them a rich and complicated history.

The gallery contains three types of traditional textiles including Muslin Jamdani textiles, Kalamkari textiles, and Kantha textiles. All three of these forms originated hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

The oldest type are the Indian Kalamkari textiles, originating 3,000 years ago. These textiles are known for recording oral storytelling with their art, often depicting Hindu mythology. In addition to being used for preserving stories and history, they were, and still are, often used as part of ceremonial clothing.

Next, Kantha textiles originated in the present-day states of West Bengal and Orissa, India as well as across Bangladesh. These textiles date back to 1500 BCE and were made by women as a means of artistic expression and practical clothing. Often, young women would learn the craft from older women in the family and community, making Kantha an important part of intergenerational relationships.

Finally, known for their brocade designs, Muslin Jamdani textiles originated in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They first appeared under their current name in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, though the craft itself may have existed for longer. These textiles were traditionally made by men. Similar to the other textiles, common designs included flowers, images of animals or nature, or geometric shapes.

As advanced art classes begin their second semester, this display has been a fantastic intermediary that provides an atypical window into history and tradition in art. Considering many recent installments in the Drake Art Gallery have incorporated themes of abstraction and modernity, looking to the traditions of the past is a break from the norm. However, this break from the norm has been welcomed by 10th-grade history students who visited the gallery as a part of learning about colonialism and industrialization in the Indian subcontinent.

To learn more about the history behind these textiles and to appreciate their artistic beauty in person, make a quick visit to the Drake Art Gallery located just inside the Davern entrance. The signs in the gallery offer more information on the creation processes and the many design motifs incorporated into the textiles.

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