MAIWA School of Textiles; Granville Island, Vancouver BC; 2017, May 23rd
It is surprising how little Western art has focused on fabrics – in sense that fabrics or weaving have been its object. The reason being very likely, that textiles are equipped with their own strong esthetic aspect, usually determining their mercantile value, as a merger of crafts and art. Therefore: what to talk (or write) about – if textiles sufficiently spoke for themselves? There are not too many poems about fabrics, for fabric sake, or short stories, not to mention novels or operas, although each of those is full of images or some other form of participation of textiles – as life is. Yet in art, as much as in life, despite the fact that fabrics carry so much meaning and social content, as commodity, they remain a prop, a medium, a symbol at most. And as always, people are what do matter: what they do, about props and symbols, not those objects themselves.
If one takes a look back, only Penelope in Homer brought some dramatic impact into narrative with an act of weaving, progressing with it in daylight, disentangling at night, where very nature of her occupation influenced, conditioned actually, events’ progression in story – paradoxically, because Penelope’s intent was for them to not progress. Also Nessus’ shirt, Salome’s veils and emperor’s new clothes played somehow on the nature and use of textiles – but neither Desdemona’s handkerchief or Malvolio’s stockings, or flying carpet, or Sleeping Beauty’s spindle, do not count, because textiles, clothing or chores involved were merely props, easily replaceable with anything else. In end of XIX century German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann wrote a communist-ish drama ‘The Weavers’, but profession of class exploited in the play did not really matter, they easily could be lumberjacks or railwaymen.
So, amazingly, despite their prominent role in life and history, textiles have not been somehow specifically addressed in art; on other hand, have been specifically addressed furniture, groceries or plants? – unless they formed the still lives or landscapes, in paintings? Yet even then, the composition and framing, plus fidelity (or deformation), were usually at focus, not the objects per se; and obviously the lighting.
It is probably not best idea to comment here on socio-economic role of textiles, especially clothing, since this deserves separate consideration. It is only worth noting that diversity in textiles and clothing seems to be in direct relation with freedom (and wealth of course) that individuals exercise within a society: all totalitarian ideologies of exclusion usually try to execute mind oppression, among other means, trough control of personal appearances and clothes standardization – as all organization uniforms or burkas prove. Therefore the more diversity and color in textiles, the more freedom in everyday life, presumably, although this may be a superficial impression; additionally it varies through cultures. In the West weaving and cloth making have developed as predominantly women’s occupation, while in many parts of the world it remained in male domain.
A great pathway into individual quest (and enlightenment) in complexity of textiles may lead through a place not far from home, in Granville Island, where in shadow of the big bridge lurks MAIWA School of Textiles: a fascinating space. An absolutely amazing stock of textiles from remote parts of world, mainly India, may be found there, to examine with all senses; as well as the lectures about textiles in regard of all their specifics, can be heard. While there, one has a feeling of visiting in half a warehouse, in half a designers studio, or maybe even a research and seminar lab, which in fact this space is, simultaneously, plus a store, of course, selling fabrics.
It was developed as an uncommon merger of entrepreneurship with enthusiasm and support for crafts. Owners run unique and interesting business model, based in creating their own market niche, that seems to be effective mostly due to educational action implemented, along trade, at both sides of the venture. Here, in Granville Island space, a vast array of workshops, courses and lectures is offered, that promote knowledge of unique fabrics while building base of customers, at same time. On contractors’ side in India, owners support their partners in cultivating of traditional hand-made manufacturing technics that preserve distinctive style of local textiles – although it would be much easier and profitable to purchase industrially manufactured products.
Whether it is still business or perhaps more a curating? – that should really not matter, if it works (30 years!) and everyone seems happy. At face value MAIWA operations, including School of Textiles, look like a perfect case of non-invasive exchange between cultures, literally and metaphorically enriching both sides of interaction.