Here is another part of the series of articles, regarding my last year’s trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s Islamic Arts Museum.
The next section we visited in the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, after the Living with Wood Gallery, is the Fabrics Exhibit. This particular gallery is the largest one on the Second level, and occupies a J shaped walkway area surrounding a central staircase which leads to the Malay World, China and India gallery on the First level. One can imagine how fabric is an essential part of the Islamic world.
There are lots and lots of different kind of articles made from fabrics were displayed here from intricately woven robes and delicately embroidered cloaks and dresses, to serenely delicate veils and headdresses to awe-inspiring banners and flags, to richly decorated carpets and rugs and wall hangings, so many artifacts representative of the beauty of Islamic art in fabrics were featured here.
The exhibits are mostly displayed against the walls of the J shaped gallery. Behind the glass walls hung carpets, rugs, wall hangings, fabric panels, banners, flags, saddle covers all either intricately embroidered or woven or brilliantly dyed with fantastic colours of yellows, blues and reds. Glints of gold were everywhere – apparently, one of the preferred and well loved embroideries were made using gold threads.
Some of the displays, such as robes, cloaks, mantles and veils are displayed on minimalistic mannequins – headless torsos for the extravagant articles of clothing, busts for those magnificent veils and headscarves and headdresses. Many, if all of them are decorated with magnificent detailing such as gold coloured embroidery that must have taken years of work to make, coins and stones meticulously sewn on the veils and trimmings with incredible workmanship on the headdresses.
While many of these were made to show luxury of the life back then, some were made for religious purposes. There were panels printed with almost talisman-like decoration of calligraphy scripts that were arranged in geometric forms, Ceremonial banners with medallions of holy inscriptionsn and garments used to show one’s religious allegiance.
I learned that most of the exhibits in this gallery came from the Eastern side of the Islamic empire such as India, Iran and Turkey, from dynasties such as the Safavids, the Mughals and the Ottomans. They were responsible for great achievements in the fields. Their quality craftsmanship were even copied by others. For example,Flower and plant motifs that were developed in Kashmir were later copied by the factories in Paisley of Scotland, hence the Paisley motif. I also learned that all of the artifacts were of later date – early Islamic fabrics were mostly fragmented and are of pitiful state, so the museum only displayed full, complete exhibits which of course, were made later.
An embroidered dress prominently displayed in the front of the gallery. The fabric looks like it is velvet, and the embroidery, as you can see, a rich, luxury gold which could takes perhaps months or years to work. This must be one of the proudest exhibit in the gallery.
A textile, perhaps a rug or a tapestry, displayed in the gallery. You can certainly appreciate the amazing details on the piece – depictions of tigers, deers and peacocks with cypress trees and the seemingly endless arabesques around them. Knowing that this was produced on a loom adds to the amazement of the article.
One of the veils on display at the gallery. This one is a long veil, perhaps used as a Niqab, covering the entire body except for the face which then maybe be covered with a separate piece along with a robe or dress.
Another veil or headdress being displayed in the gallery. This one is more decorative, perhaps an part of a traditional costume?
A beautiful blue-grey dress with gold accent. It is displayed with other robes, but this one particularly caught my eye.