Whitworth wanderings

Took a trip to the Whitworth gallery in Manchester today.
I could have spent a whole day there if time permitted, there was such a variety of exciting exhibitions. Some of the textiles on display had changed since I was there last. There was some beautiful Kutchi embroidery and Pakistani ralli quilts (above). And also the Bengali kantha embroidery which I love the stitches and quirky figurative motifs of –

I re-visited The Manchester Indian exhibition displaying a selection of Indian silk collected by Thomas Wardle in the 1800s.

I particularly liked this tunic from Peshawar that Wardle purchased in 1886. It is decorated with rogan work. A technique of painting with castor oil that creates a sort of relief wax effect. It could easily be mistaken for embroidery from afar. I visited one family still producing rogan work in Kutch a couple of years ago. They were one of only a few keeping the craft going.

Rogan artisan in Nirona, Kutch demonstrating the craft

Rogan artisan in Nirona, Kutch demonstrating the craft

Peshawar town was strategically located close to the Khyber pass, the main route to and from Afghanistan. A lot of the textiles for sale here would come from Bokhara in Central Asia.

This also explains a lot of the brightly coloured fabrics not typically Indian you see stitched into quilts and worn as scarves by communities such as the Jats in Kutch and other parts of Gujarat and I presume Pakistan too. These are clearly Russian in origin, have been sold in Central Asian bazaars and brought to India with nomads and along the trade routes.

Some good books to read about Central Asia’s trade routes and history are The Road to Oxiana By Robert Byron, A short walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby and The Lost Heart of Asia, which I am currently reading, by Colin Thubron. There are also many books documenting the silk road.


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