All threads of a global tapestry

Textile
April 22, 2005

This interesting and valuable journal is essentially an international venture and a scholarly production. It is edited by Pennina Barnett and Janis Jefferies from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and Doran Ross from the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, with an international advisory board of 14 scholars drawn from the US, Australia, Canada, India and the UK. In their welcome to the first issue, the editors write: "'Textile' means different things to different people, and this is exactly what our new journal aims to express. Rather than dwelling on definitions and territories, we want to encourage debate - and argument - across disciplines, borders and cultures, by bringing together cutting-edge research in an innovative and distinctive international academic forum." The first issues certainly live up to that intention. Each includes between four and six major pieces of research from different parts of the world, each several pages long, most of them well illustrated and with the authors' notes at the end.

The articles are extraordinarily varied. For example, Anne Hamlyn writes about "Freud, fabric, fetish", exploring the relationship between women and cloth in everyday life, visual culture and psychoanalytic theory; Jenni Sorkin's article "Way beyond craft" examines the legacy of Mildred Constantine, formerly curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, whose contribution to fibre-based production throughout the Seventies and Eighties has, Sorkin feels, been important and largely overlooked; Steven Connor, professor of modern literature and theory at Birkbeck, University of London, under the title "Maculate conceptions", considers "the signification of and effective response to spots, dots and patches in a number of different areas of social and cultural history in Western Europe"; while Beverly Lemire writes a fascinating article, "Domesticating the exotic", which is concerned with "Floral culture and the East India calico trade with England 1600-1800", indicating how the import of Indian textiles to England coincided with the import of new trees and plants from the East, the immense impact these textiles had on gentlemen's and ladies' dress, and how - as a cultural contraflow - the strength and nature of the English demand influenced Indian textile artists to modify their designs.

India is also the focus of other articles. Michael C. Howard examines the warp ikat patterns of mainland Southeast Asia; Paul Sharrad from Wollongong, Australia, writes sensitively of "a postcolonial unpacking of a Kashmir shawl"; and Victoria Lynn contributes a perceptive essay that "examines the critical responses, both in the UK and in India, to the work of Mrinalini Mukherjee, whose woven and majestic forms cross over between sculpture and textiles". Dorothy Jones, also from Wollongong, contributes an article on "The eloquent sari", which she sees as part of India's aesthetically rich and politically complex textile tradition, serving simultaneously as a sign of the nation and Indian womanhood.

Another article by Jones, "Embroidering the nation", a detailed account of how a 16m-long tapestry was assembled for Australia's new Parliament House, has political and sociological implications. The brief was to focus on the settlement of the land, and the tapestry was to be stitched by members of the Australian Embroiderers Guild to the design of Kay Lawrence. This was a huge collaborative project reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry, raising delicate issues as to how Australians see themselves and the use they have made of their land. For the Irish historian, there is a fascinating article by Jane Helland titled "Working bodies, Celtic textiles, and the Donegal Industrial Fund 1883-1890".

As a weaver, I have found particular interest in articles on individual artists, among them Elana Herzog of New York "who uses household textiles and plastics in her sculptural and architectural interventions"; Jane Kidd, whose Handwork Series is discussed at length; Narelle Jubilin, the Australian embroiderer who gave the first Constance Howard Memorial Lecture at Goldsmiths; Liz Rideal, a photographer working and teaching in New York and London, who uses as her source "drapery and pattern in portrait painting". One of the three issues each year is devoted to a single subject, for example the impact of digital technology.

Each issue also carries reviews of particularly interesting exhibitions in different parts of the world, some of which I would have loved to have seen, especially The Plains Indian Costume at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Quilts of Gee's Bend at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Some of the books reviewed sound interestingly informative and worth acquiring.

This journal has a lot going for it. It is a easy to handle, well printed on good paper, imaginatively designed, with each issue conforming to the same layout, which is helpful to the reader. It offers scholars in a wide range of disciplines a platform for publishing their research and strictly worded guidelines are given in each issue as to what the editors are prepared to accept. Any university or college with an interest in textiles should subscribe to it and make it easily available. For individual scholars and makers, the journal provides a useful resource and will be a pleasure to collect and possess. I would hope that now and then the editors will provide an index so that it will be easier to locate past articles and reviews.

Bobbie Cox is a tapestry weaver, teacher and lecturer.

Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture

Editor - Pennina Barnett, Janis Jefferies and Doran Ross
Publisher - Berg
Price - triannual Institutions £115.00, Individuals £45.00
ISSN - 1475 9756

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