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Materiality of Motion: The Vibrant Lives of Southeast Asian Textiles

Materiality of Motion: The Vibrant Lives of Southeast Asian Textiles

Whether illustrated in images of ships or signaled less perceptibly by the colors, materials, and designs of the woven threads, mobility has long figured centrally in the social significance and historical trajectories of Southeast Asian textiles. The movement of people and things along the once flourishing silk and spice trade routes winding through Mainland and Island Southeast Asia finds expression in the confluence of Arab, Chinese, European, and Indian design elements distinctive of the region’s varied textile traditions.

Yet the networks suggested by the items brought together in this exhibition are more than a matter of passage over land and sea. Drawn from a range of culturally distinct locales across the region, these textiles have not only figured in the movement of persons between social statuses, but have also facilitated exchange, transport, and communication between earthly and spiritual domains. In ceremony and in daily routine, they have sustained performances of gendered identification, conveyed local cosmologies, served as reminders of ancestral travel within and between worlds, and acted as talismanic extensions of bodies moving over uncertain terrain.

This exhibition was curated by students in the Spring 2013 History of Art seminar “Threads of Consequence: Textiles in South and Southeast Asia” (HA 4855) under the supervision of Kaja McGowan, associate professor of art history, and Ellen Avril, chief curator and curator of Asian art.

Mariko Azis
Aimee Douglas Caffrey
Laurel Conrad
Elizabeth Emrich
Cameron Ewing
Alanna Klein
Haley Knapp
Marjorie Mosereiff
Katelyn Ridgeway
Melody Stein
Kimberly Tan

We are grateful to Frederic Gleach, curator of the Cornell Anthropology Collection, and Charlotte Jirousek, curator of the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, for their assistance, and to all the lenders for their generosity.