On display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum is a stretch of red chintz, embellished with motifs of pine trees, birds nesting near a pond, and rocky outcroppings. Though made by Indian artistes in the 18th century, these motifs are distinctly Japanese. Moreover, the speckling of the red background may signify an attempt to evoke the look of Japanese resist-dyed textiles. The foreign references don’t stop here. According to the Met’s website, the chintz was “likely made for the Dutch market to satisfy their burgeoning passion for chinoiserie”. Varied transnational and cross-cultural influences play out on this piece of fabric, as well as in the remaining displays in the exhibition, which charts 400 years of global connections through the medium of textiles. “Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800” comprises 134 artefacts such as fabrics, curtains, wall hangings, bed-covers, tapestries, costumes, church vestments, pieces of seating furniture, and paintings and drawings from countries such as China, Japan, Iran, Britain and Italy.
For instance, a shawl from Russia dating back to the 17th century shows how “several Russian workshops, run by female members of the landed gentry, took advantage of inexpensive serf labour available to them and created colourful shawls based, in part, on Indian designs, employing the time-consuming tapestry technique for the patterned areas”. Another Indian display is of a temple hanging in kalamkari. Produced in Tamil Nadu, it was meant for export to Sri Lanka.