Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth
Polly Barton, Anchor, from the DARE series, 2020, silk, double ikat with additional dye. Photo: © Polly Barton. Courtesy of the artist and Chiaroscuro Gallery.

Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA - Mar 9 - May 29

by Susan Kunimatsu

Among traditional textiles, ikat stands out for its brilliant colors and bold patterns; the complex techniques that go into its making often remain beneath the surface. Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth offers a view of this ancient art that is both broad in scope and immer- sive in depth. Assembled by the Seattle Art Museum from its own and private collections, the exhibition comprises over 100 works dating from the 12th century to the present.

While printed imitations of ikat patterns can be found in contemporary fashion, the creation of true ikat begins with the painstaking dyeing of each thread. Threads for a length of cloth are measured out, bound off in tiny bundles, and dyed in a process similar to tie-dyeing of fabric. The colored threads must be carefully aligned on the loom to maintain the pattern during weaving. Colors shift from thread to thread, giving ikat designs their soft cloud-like edges.

“Ikat embodies a commitment to slow and meaningful creation,” says curator Pamela McClusky. The labor and artistry that go into ikat fabrics make them precious cultural artifacts: Uzbek coats patterned with
local plants and architectural motifs; Indian saris prized for weddings and dowries; Indonesian cloths in colors reserved for rituals and ceremonies. The ikat technique originated in the Middle East, spreading along the Silk Road into Asia and Europe. Ikat cloth is also found in Africa and South and Central America, where it is thought to have developed independently. This exhibition includes clothing and furnishings from all of these regions, in a nonlinear presentation that acknowledges this history.

Ikat is a living tradition. The exhibition opens with an installation by contemporary artists Rowland and Chinami Ricketts, enveloping the visitor in the texture, color and smell of indigo cloth. Another gallery features a dozen works from Threads of Life, an organization that supports Indonesian women weavers practicing traditional and sustainable techniques. More than a visual feast, the exhibition encourages viewers to look beyond the surface of a beautiful and venerable textile tradition.


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