The Year of the Dragon

The Textile Museum Celebrates!

Just a few days after the Chinese New Year, The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. will celebrate the spirit of the East Asian calendar’s Year of the Dragon by curating an exhibition titled “Dragons, Nagas, and Creatures of the Deep. This new exhibit opened its doors on February 3, 2012 and will run until January 6, 2013, and welcomes visitors to witness a collection of world textiles and beautiful objects that help viewers define how the world imagines dragons. This timely exhibit includes pieces from the 16th to the 20th centuries, revealing the impact this legendary creature has had over time.

This exhibition will present 16 objects from cultures “as diverse as the ancient Mediterranean world, imperial China and contemporary South America, and portrays dragons as everything from medieval fire-breathing beasts to friendly and beneficent water gods.” The theme of the show will lift your spirits, as the Year of the Dragon represents good fortune, wisdom and filled with energy and change.

The array of textiles will take viewers around the world, revealing legends and imaginative images of these storybook creatures. The dragon is mysterious in that it is an image that has been reshaped in cultures throughout time and place, but is universal in its meaning. This mythological beast has long, profound and complex history. “Whether creatures of good or evil, dragons in every culture were unquestionably powerful, and became a symbol for both prestige and protection. “Dragons, Nagas, and Creatures of the Deep reveals these shared stylistic roots.”
According to Katy Clune, the Textile Museum’s communication director, “In China, certain styles of dragons were reserved for use by the emperor and ruling class, and the way they were illustrated was determined by social rules outlined in dynastic laws. The use of front- facing dragons was prohibited for anyone below the noble classes. Only the imperial family was permitted to wear dragons with five claws.” A stunningly example on display includes a woven 18th century coat made during the Qing dynasty that features several dragons with one claw painstakingly removed from each foot— indicating its second owner altered the garment to suit their social standing. When Buddhism spread to East Asia, dragons were believed to be auspicious and protectors of the faith along with Buddhist law. 

The collection of stunning array of textiles captures the dragons' character of mystery, power, and fairytale. Also included are Laotian textiles decorated with nagas, which were once used for ceremonial rituals, as well as fifth century coats from the Qing dynasty that reference the prestige associated with these creatures. “In China, certain styles of dragons were reserved for use by the emperor and ruling class, and the way they were illustrated was determined by social rules outlined in dynastic laws. Greco-Roman stylizations influenced medieval artists in Western Europe, who began associating dragons with fire. Many Western cultures portrayed dragons as terrifying, fire-breathing beasts to be feared by the common people and destroyed by sword-wielding protectors,” said Clune.

For more information please visit, www.textilemuseum.org.

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