Indian textiles, ancient and advanced on display at GWU museum

The exhibit “Indian Textiles: 1,000 Years of Art and Design” at The Textile Museum at George Washington University highlights the intricate and stunning cloth work from India.  

“We have over 90 masterworks created over a period of about 1000 years,” said the Textile Museum Curator Lee Talbot. 

It is comprised of the museum’s own collection of Indian works along with the private collection of Karen Thakar. 

The showing covers two floors of the museum and features everything from a yards-long narrative tapestry depicting a poet’s journey across India, to floral patterned tunics. 

Talbot said the oldest piece in the collection actually even predates the title of the exhibit. 

“It dates to about the eighth century, so it’s about 1,200 years old. It is a fragment of Indian printed cotton that was found in Egypt,” Talbot told WTOP. “Interestingly, India has a very old textile tradition, but the climate is not really conducive to the survival of textiles. So the oldest textiles that we have from India were actually found in Egypt.” 

Over the ages, artists in India have become masters at different textile techniques. The Indian subcontinent is also rich with natural resources for textile fibers and dyes. 

“So those natural resources combined with millennia of human ingenuity have resulted in a really wide range of fine fabrics,” said Talbot. “They’re particularly well known for their cotton, and cotton is a particularly hard fiber to dye.” 

Talbot said Indian textile artists figured out early on that, in order to dye cotton, they needed to apply metallic salts to the garment. 

Between the craft and the science, the results have awed many over the millennia. One of the more fascinating pieces in the exhibit doesn’t involve dye at all. It is embroidered with beetle wings and has been perfectly preserved for about 200 years.

“Beetle wings are extremely fragile. They don’t survive very long. They can shatter, but also beetle wings are very delicious to other insects, and so they tend to be eaten,” said Talbot. 

The exhibition runs through June 4. 

Image courtesy of (Image courtesy: GWMuseum/Twitter)

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