the colour trail
colours and patterns of the world
14th October 2008 – 4th January 2009
East suspended gallery
curator: Françoise Cousin
The musée du quai Branly’s first textiles exhibition is the opportunity to present the roles played and the positions held by fabrics in the different societies which manufacture them today or which manufactured them in the past. The exhibition presents a collection of fabrics of which the pattern is obtained by two successive and combined stages: the creation of "reserves" and the dyeing process.
However, the exhibition does not include other resist-dyeing procedures, such as the ikat or the batik, which have produced a particularly rich collection of textiles which are on display in the musée du quai Branly’s permanent collections.
fabrics: revealing information about society
As well as learning about the craftsmanship and aesthetic dimension of the exhibited fabrics, visitors to The Colour Trail will also learn about the main, but not exclusive, use of these fabrics as clothing.
The exhibition therefore invites the visitor to discover the roles played and the positions held by these fabrics in social life, as symbols of identity or as elements of profane or religious rituals. In effect, these textiles, designed to enter into the clothing systems of the different cultures to which they belong, contribute to the expression of their symbolic and semiologic functions.
The fabrics' manufacturing conditions also provide information about the prevailing social organisation. Any changes in these conditions reflect an evolution in the requirements and production methods.
an original decorative principle
Dyeing is an ancient decorative process which is used throughout the world. Resist-dyed fabrics are well represented in the collections held by the musée du quai Branly, allowing for stylistic comparisons.
The collection presented in The Colour Trail exhibition is based on an original decorative principle: a fabric, locally made or imported, is treated in such a way that the dye is prevented from reaching certain parts. These “reserves” are created by expertly manipulating selected sections of the fabric to create reliefs which are temporarily held in place by different methods of tying, knotting or stitching. Once prepared, the fabric is dyed and then the reserves are released. It is this first stage – the creation of the reserves - which differentiates this type of resist-dyed fabric from others, such as the batik, which involves the application of diverse substances (wax, rubber, etc.) on to the surface of the fabric, which needs to be as flat as possible.
This resist-dyeing procedure has two characteristics, which can be seen in the resulting patterns.
- Firstly, the shaping of a two-dimensional object, the fabric, into a three-dimensional object which allows the reserves to be created;
- Secondly, the blank, negative areas which, left by the undyed reserves, create the pattern.
Apart from the actual dyeing equipment, which is not unique to this type of resist-dyeing, the equipment is extremely limited: threads or straps, needles, sometimes a frame, a device to hold the fabric under tension, stencils, but especially agile and experienced hands. The simple techniques contrast with the large variety of the resulting patterns.
The procedures are implemented on different materials: cotton, raffia, pandanus, wool, silk and leather. These variations, found throughout each of the world's continents, are presented throughout the exhibition.
The reserves can follow lines which are more or less marked out and this is where the pattern develops. The patterns can be designed with the help of markers or by lines inscribed in the actual fabric itself: stripes of contrasting colors or simply the grain of the fabric. Conversely, if the reserves are created without the help of markers, it is their unwinding which creates the patterns.
The color is the most immediately visible stylistic element. Whether the fabric is bi or multi-colored depends on the number of dye baths. Indigo is frequently used as the sole dye; as for multi-colored fabrics, they are the result of successive natural or synthetic dye baths.
Archaeological digs in America, Africa and Asia have allowed the ancient origin of resist-dyeing to be identified. Pre-Hispanic fabrics conserved in the musée du quai Branly’s collections evoke this ancient character, whilst contemporary examples are proof of the survival of these practices, which vary from one region to another.