The warp and weft that chronicle cultural change

Not Fabricated

The warp and weft that chronicle cultural change

Though referred collectively, each state in the Northeast has a distinct culture which comprises its natives, their culture and their rich legacy of textiles.

These fabrics only trace the history of the Seven Sisters but also throws light on the transitions that have occurred over the years in the life and times of people of the Northeast.

It is to research and document the same that National Institute of Design conducted a comprehensive field-based project and studied the fibres, fabrics, looms and tools, uses and cultural indicators of the textile traditions of the Northeastern states. The ongoing exhibition 'Threads of Change: Textile Cultures of North East India is a branch of the same research.

Worn during ceremonial feasts, war and on other occasions, the textiles of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Assam are displayed in the first part of the exhibition. Rich in biodiversity and home to innumerable tribes and communities, these states have a diverse and dynamic material culture which is reflected in their textiles which are displayed in the Exhibition Hall at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).

A number of photographs chronicle the nimble hands of weavers who use simple tools to transform readily available materials such as cotton, nettle and plant dyes, into varied textiles that serve ceremonial and other utilitarian purposes. Woven into these textiles are many narratives that encompass the myths and realities of the tribes’ origins, their social and cultural ethos, their worldview and perhaps, most significantly their identity.

It is the story behind each showcased fabric that intrigues the onlooker. Be it the naturally dyed Amii Kimij (beaded wrap) of Sumi Naga tribe from Nagaland or samples of Eri cocoons and yarn from Assam, there is an interesting story in almost everything! The presentation is however a little mundane and one might not be interested at first sight, but as the wall descriptions reveal the various facts/reasons behind a particular clothing, the Northeast experience turns exciting.

Embodiment of valour, authority and prestige, these textiles also signify the wearer’s gender, age and marital status. Especially interesting are the rain cloaks which though not made from textile, yet represent the diversity in the regional expressions of Northeast men and women who use them as shields during agriculture. There is also a enchanting display of handspun cotton shawls such as Anyirii and Rheri Phfe – worn by elderly men and women for community feasts and Church service.

Talking of community feasts, there is a segment dedicated to textiles worn by those from Nagaland’s communities, who organise them the most, and warrior shawls and a passing reference to water buffalo skulls. In addition, there are bulky, beaded neck pieces which function like clothing for the upper-body of tribal women.

An array of looms and handspun cotton yarn from Meghalaya along with samples of cotton balls (brown and white) is also displayed. While bags from fabric made in Arunachal Pradesh are quite vibrant, the textiles from Assam bear an impact of new weaving technologies introduced in the State. The latter’s sericulture also garners attention as one meets National Awardee jewellery-maker Suresh Das from Assam and drools over the collection of earrings and neckpieces he effortlessly creates out of cane and bamboo.

The exhibition is on at IGNCA till January 21.

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