In March, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, an exhibition of nearly 50 ikat robes and panels from the renowned Murad Megalli Collection of the Textile Museum, housed at the George Washington University Museum in Washington D.C. Originally produced in the 1800s in weaving centers across Uzbekistan, including Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Fergana Valley, the ikat textiles on display—including robes for men and women, dresses, trousers, and hangings—feature eye-catching designs in dazzling colors.
These bold garments were mainstays of cosmopolitan oasis culture in the 19th century, worn by inhabitants of different classes and religions throughout crowded marketplaces, private homes, centers of worship, and ceremonial places. Supplemented by historical photographs and didactic materials about the tradition of their creation, the textiles will be on view in Houston from March 12 to June 4, 2017.
Legacy of Central Asian Ikats
Central Asian ikats are distinguished by their bold, brilliant designs in vibrant hues, showcasing the 19th-century artists’ attention to the harmony of design, color, and execution in their creations. Though prized for their great beauty, the textiles also held great cultural and historical significance in the urban and rural communities in which they were worn. Ikats were offered by emirs (rulers) to other rulers and important guests as part of a centuries-old gift-giving tradition; provided luxurious embellishment in the home and during family ceremonies; and were considered precious possessions, often forming part of a dowry or passed down through the generations as family heirlooms. Among the most valued type of textile at the time, ikats—and the fabric and colors used to produce them—provided visual clues about the wearer, indicating his or her social standing, wealth, domestic role, tribal affiliation, and even geographic region. Today, contemporary trends in design, fashion, and home decor reflect the long-lasting and far-reaching legacy of this tradition around the world.
The “Ikat” Technique
The term “ikat” refers to both the type of textile and the technique used to create it. Regarded as one of the world’s most demanding dyeing techniques, ikat is executed by protecting various sections of the yarns stretched across and throughout the loom, so that these areas resist dye when immersed in a dye bath. This process requires careful attention and planning in order to achieve the desired pattern after weaving, and the resulting designs range from highly complicated, multicolored compositions to simpler, two-tone patterns.