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Farm To Factory: Textiles and Change in 20th Century Japan

June 23, 2011

Japan underwent profound social change at the beginning of the 20th century.  Western-style industrialization transformed the ancient country from an agrarian village society to an increasingly urban one.  Thousands of rural inhabitants flocked to the city and embraced the modern era.  Textiles reflect this remarkable change.

This exhibition of approximately 70 textiles consists of two principle types; the traditional indigo-dyed cotton textiles of feudal Japan and the flamboyant, modern kimono of the newly urban young female factory workers freshly arrived from the farm.

During the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) commoners were subject to various sumptuary laws that regulated what they could wear. Indigo-dyed cotton and bast fiber textiles were the common option.  The laws did not, however, restrict the astonishing creativity of the Japanese peasant.  Various tie dying, stenciling, and resist dying techniques reached their technical apogee in this period.  Frugality and innate good taste directed the hand of weavers and dyers.

As Japan began its rush towards industrialization in the early 20th century rural girls were recruited to work the new factories. Suddenly they found themselves unfettered from the social and material restrictions of their ancestral villages.  Bright, often gaudy, low quality silk kimono were designed to appeal to this new, unsophisticated audience. Young Japanese designers living in Europe imported new fashionable motifs, often derivative of Arte Deco and Arte Modern popular in Europe.  It was a good mix.  The traditional kimono was an excellent format for extravagant and highly imaginative design.

The majority of the pieces in this exhibition were assembled over many years by Fifi White and Elizabeth Wilson, co-founders of Asiatica, located in Kansas City.  Renowned for their impeccable taste and deep knowledge of Japan this collection reflects myriad collecting trip to Japan and consummate connoisseurship.

The exhibition opens Wednesday, July 20, 5:30-8:00PM and will remain on display until August 19.


From → Asia, Textiles

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