The Bold, The Beautiful, The Brilliant: Ikats from Central Asia

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit | photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill

Textiles of historic traditional compositions and unparalleled beauty have been a marker of our time, and in some cases are modernized in transforming identity and culture.

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit, photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com
Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill

Art fundamentally creates culture. Historic hand-made textiles are an artifact of global culture and can be appreciated and understood through the lens of a social anthropological context.

From power ties to flashy jewelry, it’s no secret that what the wealthy wear tends to signal their lofty standing in society. Far from an exclusively modern or American phenomenon, the practice of making class statements with one’s clothes extends deep into the past, and is a constant across a myriad of disparate global cultures.
Ryan P. Smith – Smithsonian. com

Ikat coats of Central Asia are an example of this.  Ikat is a dyeing method used to pattern textiles from a technique of resist-dyeing on yarns prior to dyeing and weaving the fabric.  The word ikat comes from the Malaysian word mengikat or to tie.  This highly skilled process is a binding or bundling of yarns that are tightly wrapped together and dyed multiple times to create the desired pattern and color, then intricately woven to achieve the overall pattern.  This resist-dyeing method is different from other methods, such as batik or tie-dye, where the final cloth, not the yarn, is dyed.  In ikat, yarn dyeing results in the pattern on both sides.  There are three types of ikat dyeing methods – warp, weft, and double ikat.

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit | photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com
Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill

Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] presents Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats which showcases over 60 examples of visually dynamic Central Asian ikat robes and panels, a gift from the David and Elizabeth Reisbord Collection.  Organized by motif, the exhibition examines how the region’s textile designers, dyers, and weavers used improvisation and abstraction to create textiles truly unique to this region.

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit | photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com
Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill

Typically, textiles do not last well through history, so scholars are unable to determine the origination of the ikat technique. Although common and developed independently in many world cultures such as Indonesia, India, and Japan and on multiple continents, some regions of Asia suggest its possible origin.  Central Asia, a geographic region which encompasses modern day Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, is one of those regions.

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit | photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com
Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill

With the use mostly of silk yarns [silk velvet ikats considered the top-of-the- line as seen in this exhibit], Central Asia ikats are vivid textile patterns bold in design and color with it’s unique characteristic of blurriness to the design.  The blurriness, or cloud, is achieved through the difficulty in the weaving process of aligning the dyed yarns so that the pattern comes out perfectly in the final cloth.  The more skilled the weaver, complexity of the pattern and less blurriness, the more expensive the piece.  The blurriness, however, is a desired effect and look by most textile collectors.

The exhibit refers to this ‘blurred’ execution as cloud-like juxtapositions of color, called abrbandi (literally “cloud binding”).  In Uzbekistan, the word abrbandiabr meaning “cloud” and bandi meaning “to bind” – is used.

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit | photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com
Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill

Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats showcases master works composed of motifs in daily life such as pomegranate, comb, vase, scorpion, cypress tree, or ramʼs horn where color and contrast were emphasized.  With the influence by the various cultures that traveled through or settled along the historic Silk Road – the ancient network of trade routes that connected the East and West, these vivid textiles serve as a material representation of this historic trading region.  Skilled artisans gave the art of ikat in Central Asia its bold, brilliant, and distinguished identity.  A textile highly prized and adorned on royalty and the upper-classes in the 18th and 19th century, today is embraced by western culture and influenced by design all over the world.

Power of Pattern, LACMA exhibit | photo by Rhonda P. Hill for EDGExpo.com
Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats, exhibit | Los Angeles County Museum of Art | photo by Rhonda P. Hill
From the art collection of Rhonda p. Hill | 1990, Jakarta Indonesia, Ikat textile
Ikat textile from the art collection of Rhonda P. Hill, collected during production sourcing travels to Asia | Jakarta Indonesia, 1990
Weaving Silk Ikat Textile, photo Carpetview, flickr
Weaving Silk Ikat Textile, photo credit Carpetview, flickr

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