TRC Blog: Textile Moments

A Flower Power bridal dress from 1974

Since I started working as an intern/volunteer at the TRC in January 2016, I have been involved in the process of cataloguing textiles and dress-related gifts by generous donors. Every time a guest arrives at the TRC with a donation, I am curious and excited to learn what is in that mysterious bag or box they have with them. And every textile has its own story, big or small. I would like to highlight the story of a very special donation that the TRC recently received, from a donor who wants to remain anonymous.

The donation concerns a wedding outfit from the 1974 Spring/Summer collection of the famous Dutch fashion designer, Frank Govers (1932–1997). It consists of a wedding dress, made of heavy cream white fabric, with yellow flower appliqué at the bottom of the dress. The dress, which is very wide, has a low neckline, and long, wide sleeves, which have a remarkable large opening along the arms. The large, circular tulle veil ought to be placed on top of the head, and secured with a long, narrow scarf made of yellow silk fabric that one ties around the head like a crown. Two big, yellow flowers, made of artificial silk, were then fastened to the hair at the height of the ears.

This ensemble was purchased by the bride herself at Govers’s atelier for 1400 guilders, a considerable sum in those days. At the moment of purchase, the dress was too long for her, so the atelier adjusted the dress to fit. However, besides being too long, the dress was also too wide for the ‘petite’ bride at the neck line. She cleverly concealed this by wearing the yellow silk scarf and the flowers around her neck, instead of the way described above. This beautiful bride married on the 28th of June, 1974. In the picture you see her together with her little niece, who was her bridesmaid, wearing a dress by the famous Welsh fashion designer Laura Ashley (1925–1985), a very en vogue choice at that time.

The bridal dress can be seen at the TRC upon request.

Nelleke Honcoop, 18 March 2016

   

PhD defence by Tineke Rooijakkers

Congregation in a Coptic church, Egypt. Photograph by Tineke Rooijakkers.

Congregation in a Coptic church, Egypt. Photograph by Tineke Rooijakkers.

Thursday, 10 March 2016, was a special day for various reasons, but mostly because of the defence of her PhD thesis, by Tineke Rooijakkers. Tineke became part of the TRC family when she was a first year archaeology student and attended a lecture I gave about archaeological textiles. It apparently made sense to her and she has been following and studying dress and identity and Middle Eastern textiles ever since. Initially she was helping at the TRC as a student volunteer, later she was working with the collection, helping visitors, and writing a BA thesis on dress, and so forth.

All of this led to her working on a PhD as part of a project organised by Prof. Bas ter Haar Romeny (Amsterdam University, VU; and TRC board member) about Coptic identity in Egypt, with Prof. ter Haar as supervisor, and dr Mat Immerzeel and myself as co-supervisors. Her thesis looks at dress and identity in both antiquity and the present. It is called Dress Norms and Markers. A comparative study of Coptic identity and dress in the past and present. Much to Tineke’s surprise (but nobody else's), her thesis not only gave her the title of Dr. but also a cum laude, which within the Dutch academic system is the highest distinction you can achieve.

Well done Tineke, we are very proud of you.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 13 March 2016

   

Cultural appropriation

Courtesy AP

Courtesy AP

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts recently stopped visitors from trying on a kimono and posing in front of a painting by Monet of a woman wearing this characteristic Japanese garment. There was also a production of Gilbert & Sulivan's 'Mikado' that was apparently cancelled. Why were people not allowed to wear a kimono? Why was watching the Mikado considered improper? What had the organisors done wrong? Well, they committed the unforgiveable sin of what in Boston was called 'cultural appropriation'. It is about, shock horror, adopting aspects from one culture and incorporating it into your own. It is about a Westerner practising yoga, eating Chinese food, wearing a kimono, watching the Mikado, and, to cap it all, sin of all sins, wearing a sombrero at a party (I am not joking). Perhaps you should look at the photograph of three young women (I think they are Mexican, although wearing very 'Western' style clothing) protesting in the Boston museum against people wearing a kimono. Some of the words they use are Orientalism, Exotification (sic), Dehumanization. And of course, racism is also mentioned.

Actually, the term is used incorrectly. In earlier days the phrase cultural appropriation was used when a certain aspect of a culture is appropriated by another and the origins deliberately obscured or misrepresented. The term was used, for example, for Palestinian garments being sold as 'Israeli'.

But apart from the incorrect application of the word, the events in Boston remain remarkable. It is easy to make jokes about this movement and about the long words that are being used. May Mexicans or Japanese eat a pizza, and if so, are they involved in cultural appropriation? But there is much more than that. I understand that minority groups need, and have every right to fight for their position in society, and use various means to achieve this objective. These means are fortunately often symbolic. In Holland it is the saga of Zwarte Piet; in other cultures it may be a particular statue (in Oxford plans were only recently scrapped to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes), changing a street name, or whatever. In many cases the minority groups are absolutely right in demanding these changes.

But this new wave of denouncing what is called cultural appropriation goes much further than that. It means that people in the Western world (I understand it is only the Western world that is at fault) should distance themselves from other cultures, look at them as strange, not to be touched (literally), and in fact, contrary to what the protesters in Boston want, regard these 'other' cultures as exotic. And what does it mean for those who are born in those 'other' cultures? Do they have to remain there, and retain and defend to the death their inherited culture? Are the three young women in Boston, enjoying no doubt the advantages of Western life, going to tell their Mexican (?) family that they should go on living as they always did? I think the campaign against what is called cultural appropriation leads to something else, namely folklorisation, which, as I interpret it, is the framing of other people and their culture into a romantic mould that clearly separates 'them' from 'us'. 

In a recent article published by the BBC (11 March, "A point of view: When does borrowing from other cultures become ' appropriation'?"), it is clearly explained that the sharing of different aspects of culture helps towards a better understanding of other people and even to celebrate other cultures. At the TRC in Leiden, the visitors enjoy wearing a kimono, a burqa, or a Mexican sombrero, so that they can have the chance to learn about other cultures. Knowledge, and direct experiences with other cultures, stimulate understanding. Creating a distance between cultures leads to ignorance and misunderstanding.

Willem Vogelsang, 13 March 2016

   

New outfit for the Afghan women's soccer team

New outfit for Afghan national women's soccer team

New outfit for Afghan national women's soccer team

Women want to play football, also in Afghanistan, but what should they wear? Not a simple question in a country that is so deeply conservative and torn apart by more than thirty years of civil war. On the 8th of March, International Women's Day, the national women's team of Afghanistan showed its new hijabi outfit, which covers them from head to toe. The outfit includes a close fitting body shirt with sleeves, a hood and leggings; a jersey; and shorts. The new outfit was designed by the Danish sportswear firm of Hummel. Its owner wrote on the Hummel website: "We don't sponsor the biggest teams in the world, but we make partnerships with teams and clubs with a story to tell, like Afghanistan". Khalida Popal, a former captain of the team, tells that "this new uniform represents the past. This new uniform represents the future." And, as such, Popal tells, this new uniform represents the true makeup and the true objective of her national team.

The home stadium of the Afghan national teams is what is popularly known as the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, which in the 1990s was the location of public executions, including those of 'adulterous' women, by the then Taliban rulers. Looking at the women's outfit it may look somewhat weird to Westerners, but considering the history of women's position in Afghanistan, this space suit nevertheless shows, I think, enormous progress.

Willem Vogelsang, 9 March 2016 

 

   

Krishna in the Garden of Assam

A series of silk, 17th century Vrindavani Vastra textiles, now on display in the British Museum, London.

A series of silk, 17th century Vrindavani Vastra textiles, now on display in the British Museum, London.

Last Thursday, March 3rd, and just before the official book launch that afternoon of Gillian's Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World in the Petrie Museum in Londonwe went to see a special exhibition in the British Museum about a particular type of figured woven textile from northeastern India. The main exhibit is a truly enormous piece of material of some nine metres long and more than two metres wide. It  is made up of twelve strips that are sewn together and are topped with three bands of Chinese damask and one band of Chinese brocade. The panels are made of silk and ornamented with the most wonderful illustrations, captions and texts, woven into the material. They date back to the late seventeenth century and derive from Assam in northeastern India. The panels were originally used and exhibited independently. but in later years were taken to Tibet, and eventually transported to Britain. This happened in the early 20th century after the march upon Lhasa by Francis Younghusband (1904-1905), which was organised in order to counter the perceived spread of Russian influence in the region. Perceval Landon was the war correspondent of The Times during the expedition. He apparently got hold of the nine metres long piece of material and had it sent and eventually donated to the British Museum. The same man, some years previously and during the Boer War, proudly posed for a photograph in South Africa together with the author and Nobel-Prize winner Rudyard Kipling !

Fragment from the Vrindavani Vastra on display in the British Museum, 2016, showing the snake demon Kaliya being defeated by Krishna.

Fragment from the Vrindavani Vastra on display in the British Museum, 2016, showing the snake demon Kaliya being defeated by Krishna.

The panels illlustrate the life of Krishna, one of the most popular deities of India and an incarnation of one of the main gods, Vishnu. The type of the illustrated panels is generally called Vrindavani Vastra, or the cloth of Vrindavan, named after the region in northern India where Krishna is thought to have grown up. The panels show various scenes from the life of the young Krishna. As a true Hercules, he defeated a whole series of demons, including a crocodile, a multi-headed serpent (Kaliya) and an ill-tempered crane. But there are also representations of the naughty Krishna dancing with young shepherdesses (the gopis) and hiding their clothes in a tree. Many of these episodes from Krishna's life are still being enacted all over northern India, at places where Krishna is especially venerated. This happens during the Ras Lila festival in late October / early November. It is actually very well possible that the panels of the exhibited Vrindavani Vastra were shown at this festival in Assam. But there are also representations of the other incarnations (avataras) of Vishnu, such as Rama, the hero from the famous epic of the Ramayana; the turtle who carries the world on his shell; the fish (matsya) that saved the first human meaning (Manu) in a true Noah-like fashion, and others. 

The exhibition also includes a beautiful eighteenth century coat from India, on loan from the Chepstow Museum in southeastern Wales. The coat is lined with a Vrindavani Vastra. It also shows scenes from Krishna's life, including his playing with the gopis.

The exhibition in the British Museum can be visited until 15 August. The exhibition is curatored by Richard Blurton, senior curator of the South Asia Collections of the BM, whom, it so happens, I first met, many years ago, at the British excavations of the old town of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Richard also wrote a small booklet to accompany this wonderful exhibition.

Willem Vogelsang, 5 March 2016

   

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Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428   info@trc-leiden.nl

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment. Holidays: until 11 August

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59, Stichting Textile Research Centre

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

TRC Gallery exhibition: 5 Sept. -19 Dec. 2019: Socks&Stockings

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The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Stichting Textile Research Centre.
 
Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
 
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