Review: Threads That Weave the World

Review: Threads That Weave the World

Shani Pillai and Joji Jacob share a passion for textiles and the associated crafts of weaving, dyeing, embroidery, bead work and needlepoint, and the Friends of Te Papa were privileged to be given an in-depth tour of an amazing, colourful collection, beautifully displayed in the Thistle Hall, Cuba Street.

In their travels through India, South East Asia and other parts of the world, the couple had realised that the generational knowledge, skills and techniques were slowly disappearing, some indeed had already been lost. So, when Covid halted international travel, they turned their minds to what might be done to raise awareness and understanding of the cultures and heritage behind the craft work. This exhibition showcases the crafts and, in turn, is a celebration of the diversity of New Zealand’s population.

As Wellingtonians we are well aware of the variety of cultures that make up the city, through cultural events, food festivals and the many ethnic eateries, but it was fascinating to see the fabric of the community represented through such a rich display of textiles, attires and accessories from Pacifica, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, India, China, Bhutan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa, Guatemala, Peru, Japan, and Ghana, to name just a few.

The exhibition features more than 60 items, many from Shani and Joji’s own collection, as well as several loaned from private collections, and others generously gifted.

Shani shared her deep knowledge of how the cottons, wools and silks are woven and dyed, the patterns of the ikats and double ikats, and the stories that lay behind the individual exhibits. From the traditional black Yemeni wedding dress with its intricate metal embroidery to the Scottish bag-piper’s kilt and the snake charmer’s quilt embroidered in snake designs unique to the Saami community in Sindh province, Pakistan. And the charming woollen wall-hanging from Lesotho – who knew there were sheep in Lesotho?

The colourful saris from Rajasthan, the ceremonial Japanese hakama with a silk-lined haori jacket, the Chinese double-sided embroidery silk on silk, basket work, hats and bags, took us on an armchair journey of the globe. The vibrant woollen wall hangings by New Zealand weaver Yvonne Sloan reminded us of our own craft heritage.

We are grateful to Shani and Joji for their generosity and time in mounting the exhibition, and we left with a deeper understanding of the complex beauty of threads.

Christine Turner.