Opening Tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 20: Ralli Quilts

December 19, 2013
ralli by Naina

Ralli quilts and patterns by artist Naina.

Earlier this year, we hosted ralli artist Naina, who for four days demonstrated the process of making intricate patchwork quilts called ralli made by women in the areas of Sindh, Pakistan, western India, and surrounding areas. Tomorrow in the Focus Gallery, we open a new exhibition exploring the forms and techniques of this centuries-old tradition. 

Ralli Quilts: Contemporary Textiles from Pakistan expands the concept of contemporary Asian art by looking at their form, color and pattern rather than solely how they are made and how they are used. Ralli quilts are made in Pakistan and western India by women artisans, many of whom do not travel out of their own village without male accompaniment. Requiring almost 200 hours to create, these ralli quilts are richly patterned textiles made of cloth from discarded fabrics. The cloth is torn or cut into geometric shapes, then stitched together on a palm mat using a large needle and cotton thread with patchwork, applique and embroidery techniques. Traditionally, ralli quilts were used as a form of currency, and would be included in a woman’s dowry. Today, they have become increasingly popular on the commercial market as their striking color juxtapositions and graphic compositions speak to larger trends in textile arts.

This exhibition is only on view through March 2, 2014, so make sure to catch it before it’s gone. And if you come before January 5, you can enjoy the final days of The Art of Continuity: Revering our Elders and The Garden in Asia, too!


Coming to a Close: Marking Transitions

March 14, 2013

Our exhibition Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia closes March 24– less than two weeks from today! You won’t want to miss this exhibition of textiles, knives, a headdress and other ceremonial objects that are common to Indonesian rites and ceremonies. Here’s what we’ve previously written about this exhibition so you can learn more about these objects before visiting a final time.

Indonesian BronzesIndonesian Bronzes at Art and Coffee
These bronzes offer a look into Buddhist life and traditions in Indonesia. Before Islam was introduced to the archipelago in the 13th century, Buddhism was a major part of life in the region. Today, Buddhism remains one of the six official religions of the country, and several ancient Buddhist structures serve as reminders of its heritage.


 tampanIndonesian Ceremonial Textiles
Several beautiful and expertly woven textiles in the exhibition highlight this rich tradition in Indonesia. From the tampan heirloom cloth to the tapis ceremonial skirt, these textiles demonstrate the incredible dyeing and weaving practices that have been central to traditional rites for centuries.


This weekend, we have a great opportunity to see this exhibition before it closes– on Sunday, March 17, we’re hosting a Free Family Festival celebrating the arts and cultures of Indonesia. You can see a Balinese shadow puppet show complete with gamelan accompaniment, traditional dances, a batik demonstration, crafts, food and more. A full schedule of the day is available on our website. Best of all, the event is free and open to the public, including the galleries! ~CM



Wedding Textiles in Asia

February 21, 2013

Korean wedding

Wedding traditions vary all over the world. On Sunday, March 10 from 12-2 p.m., learn more about the traditional Korean wedding ceremony at our afternoon of Korean culture, featuring a wedding reenactment and a traditional meal. Korean weddings are traditionally held at the bride’s family home, and includes a ceremony that involves the couple bowing to each other and sipping wine to seal their commitment. After, the couple will take part in another ceremony called pyebaek, in which the newlyweds bow toward the groom’s parents and offer symbolic gifts, such as jujubes or chestnuts (symbolizing children). At the end, the parents will toss the jujubes and chestnuts back at the bride. While traditionally this ceremony has been reserved for the parents of the groom, today couples are increasingly including the bride’s family as well.

In Korea, a marriage is such a special ceremony and celebration that common people could wear special attire for it that was exclusively worn in the palace, such as the ensemble worn by the woman above on the left. Garments like these were worn as everyday attire by a queen and as vestments by court ladies in the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), but as wedding attire outside the palace. While some rented these suits from local administrators, some villages collectively owned outfits that villagers could share.

 slendangYou can also find ceremonial clothing on view now in the galleries! In the Orientation Gallery, the three textiles on view from South Asia and Indonesia demonstrate the shawl-like textiles commonly used in those regions, in contrast to the robe silhouettes commonly used in China, Japan and Korea. These textiles could also have ceremonial functions in addition to simply being worn; this Indonesian slendang (shoulder cloth) was likely draped across the shoulders of the bride and groom to symbolize their union. Additional Indonesian textiles are on view in the adjacent gallery featuring the exhibition Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia, which we’ve written about before (hurry to see the show in person–it closes March 24!).


In our other exhibition Kimono in the 20th Century (also closing soon on March 10), you can find a tomosode, or a dark kimono characterized by family crest markings and yuzen (resist-dyeing) designs. These kimono were traditionally worn by brides until the 1930s, when the more elaborate uchikake  became popular. After that, the tomosode was more commonly worn by the bride’s mother or older sisters. To this day, the tomosode remains the most formal type of kimono.

Again, check out our upcoming program featuring a Korean wedding reenactment on our website here, and make sure to see Kimono in the 20th Century and Marking Transitions before they close! ~CM


Slendang (shoulder cloth), Indonesia, Palembang (south Sumatra province), 20th c., Silk and gold threads, Gift of Mrs. Eleanor McLain, 1993.71.1

Tomosode, Japan, 1930-5, Itome yuzen on chirimen, embroidery, couched gold wrapped threads, padded hem, crepe silk, lining, Gift of Mrs. Paul Hunter, 1981.3.2

Indonesian Ceremonial Textiles

January 10, 2013

Kain Lelok

Now halfway through its run, the exhibition Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia has our visitors enjoying the varied ceremonial objects produced in Indonesia. Previously, we’ve Buddhism’s history in Indonesia and explored the bronzes in the exhibition. Today, we’re exploring another category: textiles.

Click to enlarge. Image credit: Wikipedia

The exhibition features three ceremonial textiles for women from Sumatra (Lampung Province), Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), and the Lesser Sunda Islands (the island of Flores in East Nusa Tenggara). While you can see from the map the distance between their origins, these textiles all similarily hold great ceremonial importance. Textiles similar to these are still worn in various parts of Indonesia today.

In many parts of Indonesia, handmade textiles have been an integral part of rituals and ceremonies. Both men and women would dress in specific textiles for rituals like weddings and funerals, and textiles were often given as gifts or passed through families as heirlooms. In Kalimantan weaving ceremonial textiles was regarded as being as important as going into battle since some textiles were believed to provide protective power. The skirt shown at top, or kain lekok, is understood to “screen” the woman from danger during rituals.


Ceremonial skirts made in the Lampung Province of Sumatra, or tapis, are worn by elite women at special events and ceremonies such as marriages or coming-of-age rites. Along with a matching jacket, tapis were the ceremonial attire of unmarried women who were required to make them before marriage. Preparing tapis is an elaborate process, taking up to a year with the final garment weighing more than ten pounds. As lavish ceremonial textiles, tapis are a symbol of the social status of the wearer and her family. More elaborate skirts, with their extensive use of gold threads, sequins, and cermuk (small mirror pieces), indicate more wealth and higher social status.

Tapis begin as a large rectangle made of two woven cotton panels, as seen here. It is then sewn together to form a tubular skirt, like the útang mérang below. Stripes, geometric forms and star/flower patterns are standard for this type of tapis.

‘Utang Mérang

Across Indonesia, textiles are one of the most important gifts in ceremonial exchanges, especially those around marriage and death. ‘Utang mérang, or women’s red cloths, are reserved for such exchanges among the Sikkanese (from the Sikka Regency of Flores), whose marriage traditions involve a complex gift exchange system. Given by the bride’s family, textiles are considered an indicator of wealth and the social status of her family. Since dyeing and weaving require years of experience, girls start training at an early age, and unmarried young women spend much of their time producing textiles.

This ‘utang mérang is an example of the ikat dyeing technique. Before weaving, the warp threads (the longitudinal threads that remain stationary as the weft threads are woven back and forth) are resist-dyed to create the motif. The main ikat bands of ‘utang mérang are dyed with indigo before they are dyed with morinda (a flowering plant in the madder family) for a deep russet background. Each band in these textiles holds specific meanings that reveal the identity of the weaver and ceremony. In Sikkanese society, the warp threads are considered masculine whereas the weft threads are seen as feminine, suggesting a woman’s role in marriage as the one who binds the household together.

These beautiful textiles are best appreciated in person, alongside the other ceremonial objects in this exhibition. Don’t miss the chance to see them before the exhibition closes in March! ~CM

‘Utang Mérang (Women’s Ceremonial Cloth), Flores, Sikka Regency, mid-20th century, Cotton with warp ikat with natural dyes, Gift of anonymous donor, 1997.43.2

Kain Lekok (Woman’s Ceremonial Skirt), Kalimantan, 20th century, Cotton, flannel, beads, cowrie shells, trade cotton, Gift of the ARCO Corporation Art Collection, 1995.54.13

Tapis (Ceremonial Skirt), Sumatra; Lampung Province, c.1875-1900, Cotton, silk, gold thread, sequins, cermuk (mirror pieces), Gift of the ARCO Corporation Art Collection, 1995.54.9

Obis for Fall

September 27, 2012

This morning, our curatorial team rotated the obi in our exhibition Kimono in the 20th Century, replacing the spring and summer-appropriate obi with ones related to fall and winter. This exhibition has been designed to display not only kimono, but also the many accessories that traditionally accompany them, and the obi is an important element of traditional Japanese dress.

Japanese dress is heavily tied to seasons, not just in garment weight and material, but in design. In the first rotation, we featured a beautiful obi with pink flowers and a brightly colored bird, the perfect accessory for a summer kimono. Now, we’ve rotated in this wonderfully embroidered fall obi featuring maple leaves and mallard ducks. This particular obi is in the fukuro style, the second most formal type and the most formal actively used today (the most formal type, the maru obi, is much heavier due to the embroidery and high-quality fabric used for the entire obi, whereas the fukuro obi often uses lighter fabrics and less embroidery on the areas that are hidden when tied). Today, the maru obi is only worn by brides and as part of other highly traditional ensembles. Men and women alike wear obis as part of traditional dress, though men’s obi are narrower, more subtle in design, and tied more simply than women’s obi.

There are a wide variety of ways to tie an obi. Often a combination of pads, scarves and cords are used for both functional and decorative purposes– for example, many types of knots require a cord to hold the obi in place. Because the knots are so complicated, and because they’re centered on the individual’s back, the wearer is usually dressed by another person.  As with the kimono itself, these knots hold a great deal of symbolism. Some are more formal than others, and often they’re designed to resemble flowers, animals or other objects. As with kimono, the more elaborate knots are usually worn by young, unmarried women.

In conjunction with this exhibition, Pacific Asia Museum held a kimono lecture and fashion show this summer with sensei Naomi Onizuka. Here, you can see sensei Onizuka and her assistant with two different styles of obi knots. Check out our flickr album from this event for more images of the beautiful kimono presented at this event, and stop by our Japanese Gallery to see the new items on display! ~CM

Top image: Fukuro-type Obi (detail), Japan, 1960s-1970s, Slit tapestry-weave with cotton lining, Gift of June Tsukamoto-Lyon, 2008.5.37