Upcoming Exhibition Provides a Lens into Cultures Around the World Through Textiles

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This fall The Textile Museum (http://www.textilemuseum.org) will take visitors on a journey through North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond in "Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas," an exhibition examining the central role that rugs and textiles play in diverse cultures around the world. Through the display of 90 Oriental carpets and other woven objects, the exhibition showcases the dazzling beauty of the pieces and explores the context in which they were created and used within cultures on several continents. "Timbuktu to Tibet" is on view October 18, 2008 through March 8, 2009.

This fall The Textile Museum (http://www.textilemuseum.org) will take visitors on a journey through North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond in "Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas," an exhibition examining the central role that rugs and textiles play in diverse cultures around the world. Through the display of 90 Oriental carpets and other woven objects, the exhibition showcases the dazzling beauty of the pieces and explores the context in which they were created and used within cultures on several continents. "Timbuktu to Tibet" is on view October 18, 2008 through March 8, 2009.

With textiles, people around the world express their diverse traditions, lifestyles, fashions and technologies, all while addressing fundamental physical, aesthetic and spiritual needs. Textiles serve as clothing, provide shelter and accompany rituals. Through material, color, pattern, design and other facets, textiles reveal an individual's wealth, social status, occupation, and religious and ethnic associations, as well as a culture's values, codes and social order. "Timbuktu to Tibet" illuminates these encoded messages and explores the varying functions of carpets and textiles. By examining the practical uses and complex iconography of the rugs and textiles on view, the exhibition offers visitors a deeper look into the lives, beliefs and events that shape cultures around the world.

Exhibition Themes

One of the determining factors in how textiles have been made, decorated and used, from Africa to East Asia, is whether they originate in nomadic or settled cultures. The textiles produced by these two types of societies differ greatly in their aesthetic, technical and functional qualities; because of their continuous interaction, however, nomadic and settled people have shaped each other's textile traditions.

Objects in the Exhibition

The Textile Museum's showing of "Timbuktu to Tibet" features selections from the exhibition "Woven Splendor from Timbuktu to Tibet: Exotic Rugs and Textiles from New York Collectors," currently on view at the New York Historical Society. Preeminent scholar Jon Thompson, recipient designee of The Textile Museum's 2008 George Hewitt Myers Award for his lifetime achievements in the field of textile arts, served as guest curator of the initial presentation and authored the accompanying catalogue. Sumru Belger Krody, associate curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections, organized The Textile Museum's showing. Textiles featured in The Textile Museum presentation include:

  • A vivid 20th-century wool felt from Daghestan in the Eastern Caucasus, today used as a wall or floor covering but still linked to the nomadic past through its name, "arbabash" (cart cover).
  • A wall hanging from 19th-century Turkey or Syria illustrating architectural and floral motifs.
  • An elaborately embroidered saddle cover, fashioned to adorn a horse belonging to Azerbaijani nomads in the 1800s.

"Following the approach Thompson took at the New York Historical Society, we sought to tell the story of the people who made the objects, the ways they lived and worked, and the functions of the pieces they created," said Sumru Belger Krody, associate curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections at The Textile Museum. "This allows us to explore the cultural context in which the objects were made and used in addition to showcasing the textiles as beautiful works of art. This unique approach makes the material more accessible to those less familiar with the textile arts, and deepens our understanding and appreciation of their significance."

Who are the Hajji Babas?

The exhibition title refers to the New York-based Hajji Baba Club, the nation's oldest society of rug and textile collectors, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007. "Timbuktu to Tibet" features rugs and textiles either held in the private collections of Club members or donated by them to The Textile Museum and other institutions. The Hajji Baba Club draws its name from the hero of a 19th-century English novel by James Morier, "Hajji Baba of Isaphan," the first in his "Hajji Baba" series. Over its 75 years, the Hajji Baba Club has enormously impacted the appreciation of rugs and textiles as art. Members of thClub have donated objects to the collections of many major museums, including The Textile Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Harvard University's Fogg Museumand Winterthur Museum.

The Hajji Baba Club currently boasts 185 members, including museum curators and directors, auction house directors and board members of the International Conference on Oriental Carpets. George Hewitt Myers, founder of The Textile Museum, was himself an active member of the Hajji Baba Club. "By exploring the history of the Hajji Baba Club in 'Timbuktu to Tibet,' we are able to celebrate the contributions of Club members past and present, and to chronicle how the Western understanding and appreciation of traditional textiles have changed over the 20th century," said Krody.

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Cyndi Bohlin
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