Included in the large and growing collection of works of many kinds at the Birmingham Museum of Art are textiles from various parts of the world, and a substantial number of objects from Asia. In the case of All the Colors of the Rainbow: Uzbekistan Ikats from the Collection of Peggy Slappey, the BMA is presenting an exhibition unique in its history, the first to feature pieces from Central Asia.
Ikat as a technique has bound together the histories of cultures as diverse as those in Central Asia to those in Central and South America.
Ikats are textiles made, in too-simple terms, with a technique involving dyeing individual yarns or bundles of yarns before actually weaving them into elaborate, complex patterns. Ikat can refer equally to the resulting fabric or the technique. The word, depending on various sources, can mean cord, thread or knot or “to bind,” or “to tie.”
The ikats on display at the BMA come from the Silk Road as it went through Uzbekistan. “The making of many Uzbekistan ikat begins with the production of silk,” according to the museum website. “Women raised silk worms that were then sold in the bazaars to men, who in turn unwound them into thread that was then dyed and finally woven into cloth.
“Historically, clothing represented rank and status in the oasis communities. The wealthiest residents wore costly, bright silk ikats, while those in lesser positions wore similar robes made of cotton. The ikat robes produced in Uzbekistan in the 19th century came in a wide spectrum of vibrant colors and were used as clothing, decoration, and gifts.”
All the Colors of the Rainbow includes ikat garments created in Uzbekistan in the 19th century: robes, shoes, hats, bags, and even jewelry. Today you can see ikat designs throughout the fashion and design industries. But if you miss this exhibition, you’ll miss a chance to see rare examples of this internationally important art carefully preserved from a historic period.
All the Colors of the Rainbow: Uzbekistan Ikats from the Collection of Peggy Slappey is on display in the BMA’s Jemison Galleries. The exhibition was made possible by grants from the Robert R. Meyer Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Lydia Eustis Rogers Fund, the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and support from the City of Birmingham. The exhibition is free. Ends July 10. For more information, visit artsbma.org