St. Louis Museum of Art Exhibit Explores How Chintz ‘Changed the World’ | Art Stories and Interviews | Saint Louis
The lights at St. Louis Art Museum (1 Fine Arts Walk, 314-721-0072, slam.org) last exhibition are darkened to protect the ornate garments and tapestries residing there – the fabrics, centuries old, are very sensitive to light. Yet even dim lighting and the passage of centuries could not prevent the warm reds and deep blues of the textiles on display from bursting. Indian chintz was made to last, and it does just that.
The exhibition, Global Discussions: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz, tells the story of Indian chintz, a fabric as revolutionary as it is beautiful. From the 17th century, this cotton textile, which Indian artisans spent centuries perfecting, dominated the world textile scene. Coveted for its brilliant colors and intricate patterns, chintz has transformed fashion, industry and global commerce, and has been sought after everywhere from East Asia to Egypt to Britain. .
“The most exciting thing about this exhibit is that it really tells the story of a fabric that really changed the world. It’s technologically advanced, visually creative, and it really helps shape our kind of understanding. of global commerce and fashion today,” says Genevieve Cortinovis, associate curator of decorative arts and design at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and co-curator of the St. Louis presentation.
There are a few criteria for a textile to be considered chintz: it must be made of cotton, the designs must be painted by hand without the use of machines, and the dyes are usually made from substances extracted from the natural world. , such as indigo blue or madder red. Chintz can take a myriad of forms, from ornate tapestries and garments in Iran to protective covers for porcelain tea sets in Japan. The designs are equally open to interpretation, ranging from historical and religious narratives to purely decorative motifs.
“Designs can be geometric; they can be floral; they can be narrative; they can be figurative”, explains Philip Hu, curator of Asian art and co-curator of the exhibition. “There is no one looking at the chintz.”
Although remarkable for its beauty, what really made chintz stand out on the world textile scene were the complex methods of producing the dyes and mordants, or binding agents, that went into its production. This innovation by Indian artisans enabled them to design elaborate fabrics in a range of unique fade-resistant colors.
“Imagine if all the clothes you wear could never be washed, and if you did, all the colors would come off immediately,” Hu says. “I mean, you’d be quite upset, wouldn’t you?” So when the Indians discovered this method of making textiles, where you could have shiny and beautiful patterns, but they would not come off and they would be unalterable, it really became a kind of revolution in the world of textiles.
While visually stimulating, Global Threads is as much about the history of chintz as it is about its aesthetics. Each gallery in the exhibition tells a piece of this story. The first room serves as an introduction to chintz, while subsequent rooms shed light on how Indian artisans were able to adapt their designs to the desires of foreign markets, including Iran, Indonesia and France. A gallery, titled “Cotton and the Consequences of Desire,” highlights how chintz catalyzed the Industrial Revolution and intensified cotton production in the United States.
The exhibition also includes an audio-visual component highlighting contemporary Indian chintz artists who continue to advance the art form not only to keep its beauty alive, but also to draw attention to environmental responsibility and sustainable practices. in the age of fast fashion.
“Chintz is alive and well in India today,” Hu said. “There aren’t a lot of people doing it, but those who are doing it now have very significant concerns about sustainability and environmental responsibility. They realize that if they continue to use only natural dyes, it will have a much less debilitating effect on the environment, unlike other printers and designers who use chemical dyes and other artificial elements.
The exhibition concludes with a display of modern Indian chintzes, including that of an artist featured in the aforementioned audiovisual component.
“We wanted to end the show with this kind of modern take on Indian chintz and re-emphasize the great variety there is in this textile design,” Hu said.
Global Threads is produced and distributed by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. Although some pieces are from the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum, including a Japanese chintz-inspired dish and a 19th-century American quilt with a chintz pattern, most of the fabrics on display are courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum.
“We’re really lucky to have this material here,” Cortinovis says.
You can consult Global Threads until January 8, 2023. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $6 for children ages 6-12. The exhibition is free on Fridays and at all times for members of the museum.