India has always held a mysterious yet magnetic quality for me, and I have long had an obsession to get there. This past winter, I was so honored to co-lead a tour with Alaka Wali for Chicago's Field Museum.
The trip had an overall agenda to explore the country's textile traditions, specifically how the relationship to nature and its many forms has influenced everything from decorative prints to ornamentation to architecture on a massive scale (like the Lotus Temple in Delhi, above). During our packed itinerary we visited textile factories, national parks, and historic buildings and monuments, all of which told a fascinating story of an incredibly vibrant, creative, and industrious culture. There is really nothing that can prepare you for the experience, and the inspiration from this trip will live on in my personal life, as well as my creative one—get ready for an Indian-influenced 2019 at M2057!
Below, please enjoy some of the photos from our journey.
There is no garment simpler yet more elegant than the sari. The colors, embroidery, and carriage of the wearer turn this single nine-yard length of fabric into something extraordinary. We saw so many personal interpretations of the sari, including color and pattern combinations that were truly unique and inspiring. (And yes, Alaka taught us all how to wear our own saris!)
One of the many things that captured my attention on this trip is the way in which meaning and significance surround everyday life. This is perhaps best illustrated in the culture's fascinating connection to color, which explodes forth everywhere you look and has specific connotations in its deployment.
From Terri Judd at Independent UK:
Every street is a sensory assault, from lime to mint, saffron to crimson, turquoise to indigo, magenta to lavender. Drive down a desert road and suddenly there is a shock of brilliance: a group of ladies circled under a tree, their saris crimson, fuscia and tangerine.
And behind each color is a story, from the electric blue of the Brahmin houses to the holy orange of the Sadhus. The Rajput warrior class wear saffron turbans to denote chivalry, the Brahmin scholastic men candy pink, the nomads black. While a white sari might indicate a widow, one combination of red and yellow can only be worn by a woman who has borne a son.
Red stands for purity and therefore is the preferred color for a bride’s wedding garment. Red is also the color associated with one of the most revered goddesses in Hindu mythology, Durga. In the southern half of India, red is the color of violence and disruption.
White is the acceptable color at funerals and ceremonies that mark death in the family). White is also widely accepted as the color of peace and purity.
Orange is the most dominat color in all of India. The orange (dark saffron) in the Indian flag stands for courage & sacrifice.
In India, black is referred to with desirability, evil, negativity, and inertia. It represents anger and darkness and is associated with the absence of energy, barrenness, and death. It’s used as a representation of evil and to ward off evil.
What a treat to be able to view firsthand how garments and other textiles are designed and woven. Many of the forms, patterns, and flowers we saw in the natural surroundings repeated in motifs in fabric prints, mosaics, tilework, filigree, and other architectural ornamentation.
The are so many places to discover color, textures, and patterns. Even the beauty of the weatherworn walls is magnificent, gaining a certain softness and patina over the decades or centuries.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, and it was a pleasure and a privilege to meet so many incredible people, gracious hosts who were eager to share their history, traditions, crafts, and culture with us. I came away with an expanded point of view, a deep well of inspiration, and an appreciation for the elegance that can be found in everyday activities. And, of course, I'd like to say a very special thank you to Alaka and The Field Museum.
Until next time,