Monday, June 12, 2006

Yurts, Camel Trappings a Salt Bag or Two

On Wednesday May 31 “Wandering Weavers: Nomadic Traditions of Asia” open at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto. On June first I attended a Media Tour (which turned out to be a private tour) of the exhibition given by the curator Natalia Nekrassova. A soft spoken, knowledgeable and passionate person, she is more then willing to give you as much information as you want, while brining you back to the objects on display. She begins her tour with the basic fact that the Museum has over 400 pieces in the collection from which to draw on and how she categorized her focus into four areas: the portable dwellings (Yurt and Tent), the animals that move them (Camel, donkey, mule and horse) the packing equipment for the move (bags of specific construction for specific purposes) and the transition from a traditional Nomadic to contemporary static existence.

This dry information is soon lost in utter amazement inspired by the objects themselves. The beauty of each piece complimenting the other draws you future into the exhibition. When you enter the gallery you enter the Home: the components of both a Yurt and Tent. These are the portable dwellings that have housed these nomadic tribes for centuries. During this time period the fibre based components whether woven or felted have evolved in ways specific to their functions. Long weft float woven straps that have more elasticity due to its structure have elaborate colourful designs that aren’t necessary to the function of tying the support poles yet speak of the skill and artistry of the weaver. Wall coverings, floor coverings made differently for insulation, windbreak, comfort or decoration. Included in this first room along with the housing material is a vignette of figures in tribal garments.

The Igdry Turkmen of Khorsasan in northern Iran and the Tekke from Turkmenistan were the most prominent silk weavers. Woven on horizontal or horizontal looms of local silk these finely woven clothes of plain and warp faced weaves where fashion into garments…

Let’s face it words with out the images or actual pieces to view can leave one losing interest easily. If it is the roll of the museum to educate and it is in the mandate of the Textile Museum of Canada to do just that. This exhibition is an opportunity to learn about a way of life that is disappearing in a part of the world that is the current headline of every news outlet on the planet. The weaving among other fibre processing skills that are in the blood and bone of these traditional nomadic peoples are in danger of disappearing not through lack of interest by this new generation but by the reality that they are simply being killed. You can’t remove the politics of region from which these object came from this exhibition and perhaps it adds to its importance. Natalia Nekrassova spoke of a moment in time when the Russian left Afghanistan and before the Taliban shut it down as a period of time in which westerners could travel and shop and many textile pieces where brought out, some of which ended up in the TMC.

While looking at this show it should be apparent that the sophisticated centuries old technical knowledge from which many western concepts have been derived i.e. western medicines is the work of the various people of the Middle East that are presented to us now as backward and religiously controlled by fanatical zealots have traditions that are far from backwards. Two years ago at the TMC Annual General Meeting Max Allen while speaking of the launch of the Canadian Tapestry website spoke of the logistics of repatriating the rugs to the source and how the website could at least allow on-line access to the keepers of the traditional skills. An interesting thought if you have a secure power source to run your computer equipment and can get on line. Those of us that can get to Centre Street in Downtown Toronto should take the opportunity to view this exhibition and learn all we can while simply enjoying these stunning textiles.

“Wandering Weavers: Nomadic Traditions of Asia” is on display at the Textile Museum of Canada at 55 Centre Avenue in Toronto and runs from May 31 until October 29 2006.

Visit the TMC website for more information and check out the Canadian Tapestry website you will find the link to both in the sidebar under links

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