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Title: Tree of Life: Asian Textiles

Image_Palampore, ceremonial hanging

Vast Asia, with its complex geographical environment, numerous peoples and historic civilizations, had through the ages witnessed the development of a multitude of silk, wool, hemp, cotton and other cultures of woven and dyed fabrics. Textiles not only possessed the practical functions of covering the body and keeping it warm as well as being decorative and pleasing to the eye, but also conveyed social status or tribal distinctions through symbolic depictions formed by the materials, colors and images, and were used in various ceremonies and rituals in the palaces and temples, even endowed with mystical power, properties transcending the material world. For this exhibition typical forms have been selected from the National Palace Museum’s collection of Southeast Asian and South Asian textile artifacts, providing a glimpse into the multifarious and enduring textile traditions in different regions of the continent, and into the trajectory of contact and interaction between various cultures.

Proliferating over Time

Among some peoples of the south-eastern region of Asia, textile arts and creation myths are so intricately linked that the imagery of trees of life, boat-shaped decorative patterns and ancestral spirits is frequently employed to symbolize the generation and proliferation of the myriad things of the cosmos, and to transmit the hope for the perpetuation of humankind. These are generally used during important life cycle ceremonies, such as those for birth, the coming of age, marriage and death.

Palampore , ceremonial hanging  New window

Palampore , ceremonial hanging
Late 18th century

Palepai , ceremonial hanging with ship design supplementary weft brocade  New window

Palepai , ceremonial hanging with ship design supplementary weft brocade
Late 19th century to early 20th century

Pidan , temple hanging  New window

Pidan , temple hanging
weft ikat
Cambodia, 1900-1940.

Mystical Power

Textile items in Southeast Asian history and culture, apart from serving as costumes and accessories, played important roles, particularly in courtly meetings, at the temples and their altars to the gods, and at tribal sacrifices. In hanging-banner forms, there were dye-painted texts, woven or embroidered ritual motifs, endowed thus with mystical power to purge a disease, to bring relief from hardship, or even to become a channel for communication between man and the spirits.

Phaa Sabai , healing cloth  New window

Phaa Sabai , healing cloth
Late 19th century to early 20th century

Shoulder mantle, tapestry weave and embroidery  New window

Shoulder mantle, tapestry weave and embroidery
Dogra period, late 19th century

Imagery of Fertility and Abundance

Brilliant colors, rich pictorial and decorative imagery as well as intricate and delicate handicraft techniques are the delightful fruits of several thousand years of the development of Asian textile arts. They contain metaphors of yin alternating with yang, the passage of time, renditions of religious illumination of deities and splendid decorative motifs conceptualized from nature, symbolizing the earth’s rich fertility, flourishing and blooming. Accompanying the comings and goings of commerce and trade and the trajectory of cultural interaction, textiles had become a medium to convey people’s hopes and wishes for ever-continuing prosperity and contentment.