Colors of the Oasis

Central Asian Ikats

If traveling to Uzbekistan seems a bit far to take a gander at ikat textiles and garments, perhaps a trip to Washington D.C.’s The Textile Museum will satiate your love for the bold and colorful patterns of Uzbek woven textiles.
From October 16, 2010 until March 13, 2011, the Textile Museum will showcase the jaw-dropping and mesmerizing exhibit, Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats that features a selection of 19th century garments and textiles from the museum’s Megalli Collection. Through the various installations, museum guests will have the opportunity to learn everything about ikat production, the dyeing process, as well as the historical, social, and aesthetic significance of these garments and textiles to Central Asian culture.
Ikat is derived from mengikat, the Malay word meaning “to tie” or “to bind”, and it’s used for both the dyeing process and the textile. Ikat is produced by dyeing the individual threads in several colors. When woven together the results are the spectacular patterns that define this textile tradition. Sumru Belger Krody, the exhibit’s curator, writes in the forward of Color of the Oasis catalogue, “The ikat technique requires careful planning so that the colors on the pre-dyed yarns form the desired pattern once the textile is woven. Ikat designs can range from highly complicated compositions involving several colors, to more subtle two-tone patterns.”
Ikat designs are created from bold linear abstractions inspired from natural forms, and the use of negative and positive space is an important element. Natural forms such as birds, scorpions, and flowers, which inspire the designs, may have symbolic meaning in other traditions of textile art, but with ikat these motifs are integrated in the overall pattern. “The tremendous variety and richness of existing ikat designs are testimony to the designers’ ambitious artistic goals and improvisational skills,” notes Krody.
Considered precious goods and symbols of wealth and social status, ikats were passed down from generation to generation, and also used as part of a dowry that would have included numerous pieces such as robes, panels, and yards of ikat fabric. Krody writes, “The social functions of ikat textiles, as both garments and furnishings, were even more important than their beauty or their utilitarian purposes. Political, economic, and private life-cycle events were marked by exchanging ikat fabrics, or textiles made from them, as gifts. Such gifts served as tangible evidence of the individual’s transformation in status and spirit.”
The exhibition in divided into three sections that educate visitors through ikat design and the artistic principles, stories of the individuals who made them, and the process of ikat making. Installations include photographs, a setting inspired by a 19th century Uzbek interior, life-like displays employing dress forms place the collection within a socio-historic context.
In addition to the exhibit, a weekend symposium, Tying the Rainbow: Reexamining Central Asian Ikats will take place on Friday, October 15 through Sunday, October 17. A day-long lecture on October 16 will include presentations range from ikat history to its influences on contemporary global fashion.
All quotes from Sumru Belger Krody are taken from the exhibit’s catalogue, Color of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats. For more information, please visit for current exhibitions, upcoming public programs, and more.



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