Discover The History Of India Through Its Textiles At The V&A

Fabric of India at the V&A Museum ★★★★☆

By Silvia Baretta Last edited 26 months ago
Discover The History Of India Through Its Textiles At The V&A Fabric of India at the V&A Museum 4
Installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

With so many fast-fashion chains and mass-produced clothes, it's difficult to think about handmade and natural production of fabrics in the modern day.

The idea is challenged and beautifully expressed at the V&A's new exhibition The Fabric of India, which tells the story of a millennial tradition and craftsmanship that still continues today. Just think: the history of fabric production in India originated in 4000 BC (!), with the first dyed fabrics dating back to 2500 BC — which makes us realise the strength and the power of their traditions way before the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 14th century.

The first section of the exhibition introduces us to the main types of fabrics and dying techniques developed across the country throughout the centuries. We learn about the production process for cotton, silk, wool and different colouring techniques, all carried out just using plants. Our eyes wander through precious blue, red and yellow fabrics: it's fascinating and at the same time hard to imagine that these pieces on display were all hand-made a few centuries ago.

The exhibition then focuses on the various uses of the textiles: from religious manifestos to home decoration to sumptuous expression of royal power. We're particularly fascinated by the section dedicated to the latter topic, where we can admire a massive tent used by Tipu Sultan in 1790 as well as finest examples of aristocratic dresses for both women and men.

In the history of India, cloth was also used as a mean of political protest and civil commitment: Gandhi's Swadeshi (Homeland) movement saw fabric production as a focal point of his peaceful protest. He famously called on Indians to stop buying foreign goods produced from the British Empire and instead produce their own clothes by hand. The spinning wheel became a symbol of that revolutionary movement and still stands on the national flag today.  

This excellent exhibition is part of the V&A India Festival, which explores the cultural heritage of the country through a series of smaller exhibitions, talks and one-off events this autumn. If you do want to see something different and culturally relevant, this one is for you.

The Fabric of India, supported by Good Earth India, with thanks to Experion and Nirav Modi, is on until 10 January 2016 at the V&A Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL. Tickets are £14 for adults and £12 for concessions. The exhibition is part of the V&A India Festival, happening this Autumn.

For more exhibitions to see this month, check our Top 10 list for October.

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Map shawl, woollen embroidery, Kashmir, 19th century. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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Installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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Installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
installation_view_of_the_fabric_of_india_at_the_va_c_victoria_and_albert_museum_london_5.jpg
Installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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Installation view of The Fabric of India at the V&A. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Last Updated 05 October 2015