Made in India: Indian Textiles, Global Markets
The Kent State University Museum is proud to present this exhibition drawing from its extensive collection of clothing and textiles from India in order to highlight the dynamism, flexibility and variation of the nation’s culture. Beyond the impressive assortment of historic garments, which are remarkable examples of “traditional” Indian dress, a sizable portion of the collection was produced in India for the Western market. These items include both those pieces designed to be sold in India for the tourist market, as well as a number of pieces, which, while produced in India, were intended for export to and sale in Europe or America.
Rather than simply explore the rich and varied textile traditions of India this exhibit aims to trace the complex influences that Indian textiles have had on fashions in Europe and America. While this exhibit concentrates on objects which were made in India, the cultural exchanges in the realm of textiles and clothing over the past two centuries have gone in both directions. Not only have Indian products and designs traveled to the West and served as enrichment and inspiration, Western designs and goods have, in turn, exerted an undeniable influence of their own.
The history of cultural exchange between India and the West is complicated by the colonial relationship between India and Great Britain from 1858 until 1947. Rather than a free exchange of goods and ideas, Britain hampered Indian production and trade through restrictions and taxation. Through the establishment of unequal conditions for the textile industries, the British stifled the handloom industry in India in favor of its own production of machine-woven cotton. Raw materials were imported from India to Britain where they were woven then re-exported back to India for sale. When Gandhi led the movement for nationalization, he chose hand-woven cotton as the symbol of national resistance. The simple, homespun cotton, known as khadi, which he wore for the rest of his life, embodied a symbolic resistance to British power, but the resulting boycott of British goods damaged the economy of the imperial power.
Textiles and clothing in India are more than striking representatives of the nation’s creativity and ingenuity; they have played an integral role in the cultural, political and economic shifts that the nation has faced through the 20th century. The array of items selected for this exhibition demonstrates the reciprocal exchange of goods and styles that occurred between India and the West, but moreover attests to the central role that textiles have had in this oftentimes fraught relationship.