Uncut designs;Arts

30th July 1999 at 01:00
The Uncut Cloth Paisley Museum and Art Galleries Until October 24

This is a celebration of the glorious woven, embroidered, printed and dyed textiles of South Asia - the vibrantly coloured and beautifully patterned traditional fabrics from India and Pakistan that, neither cut nor sewn, have been worn over the centuries as saris, shawls, turbans and sashes.

More than 120 of these single-cloth garments, dating from the 18th century to the present day, comprise this exceptional show, drawn from museums and private collections in Britain and the Indian subcontinent. Many have never been exhibited in public before and all are breath-taking.

The textiles have been grouped in themed displays where the searing pinks and reds of many of the saris, shawls and waistcloths - hung as in an Asian bazaar - are seen against neutral cream backdrops, decorated with a simple, Indian-style motif.

In addition to the garments, there is a group of domestic textiles, including an 18th-century cotton coverlet embroidered with the tiniest of stitches; a rare tent hanging, hand-painted with a simple chintz-like pattern of red flowers; and a collection of tasseled and mirrored dowry bags.

Complementing the fabrics are large colour photographs (many by Nasreen Askuri, who co-curated the exhibition with Liz Arthur and Valerie Reilly), some taken only a few months ago, of people in South Asia still wearing traditional dress, from turbans in all their variations to the relatively rough and ready knee-length tribal saris.

Textiles from the Indian subcontinent form the major portion of the show, but The Uncut Cloth also tells the story of the design and trade links between South Asia and the West of Scotland that were particularly strong in Paisley during the first half of the 19th century. It could not have been mounted in a more appropriate venue. The manufacture of imitation Kashmir shawls which were a "must have'' in Europe during the crinoline era, became so inextricably linked with the town that they and their design motif are still called ''paisley" today.

Ironically, thousands of the imitation Kashmir shawls were shipped to India, where they swamped the local market, often to devastating effect. It has been argued that the Scottish manufacturers were only responding to the flooding of their home markets by cheap imports from India.

At any rate, Paisley Museum has been able to pick the finest shawls from its own world-renowned collection for this display, which also features historic examples of Scotland's own traditional uncut cloth garments, including the tartan plaid.

In the book accompanying the exhibition (which would make a colourful and useful addition to any school library), the curators acknowledge that South Asia's rich textile traditions are now experiencing a rapid decline, due to the increased use of man-made fibres and mechanisation. The Governments of India and Pakistan are trying to safeguard their unique textile heritage.

They have also lent their support to the extensive holiday and term-time education programme of workshops, lectures and demonstrations for adults and children at Paisley Museum.

For an education programme leaflet, and details of after-school tours for teachers in August, telephone Paisley Museum on 0141 889 3151.

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