A fascinating partnership and a wealth of knowledge and ambition were shared in Threads of Tradition, a talk about hand loomed cloths of India.

Shani Pillai and Joji Jacob are infectious in their knowledge, generosity and spirit as they take us to India from the perspective of textiles. They opened with a brief introduction to their own stories and how this passion in a Malaysian/Tamil and Indian/ Hindi couple developed through friendship, travel and family ties. They live in Wellington but have nurtured their own traditions and heritage. They also help to link organisations and support artisans in India and their talk gave us a real sense of background to these concerns. In particular, their response to the rise of suicides among traditional weavers as this art is threatened by new methods and cheaper fabrics.

L-R: Juvena Jalal, Joji Jacobs, Shanni Pillai and Ann Hodson. Photo by: Deirdre Tarrant

The cultural significance of the sari and dhoti as uncut, unsewn pieces of cloth that represent the universe was captivating and they shared many details of the why and what of the woven patterns and pictures that featured on these garments. The significance of thread in ceremonies and rituals was interesting.  Short videos accompanied their talk to give a focus and overview of information about three particular traditional weaving/ decorating processes.

From West Bengal come the sheer, delicate muslins ‘ Jamdani’ – Persian influenced, the weavers are accompanied by song, chant and poems and their patterns are drawn from intricate flowers and foliage. From The Coast of Coromandel and again with Persian influence, come ‘Kalam Kali’, the hand painted or block printed myths and flowers of chintz and we were given some fascinating facts about this timeless fashion fabric and its uses. From Gugarat, comes the Double Ikat , one of the world’s most specialised and precious fabrics where the warp and weft are dyed individually and the patterns are considered life- nurturing and life- giving.

It was lovely to feel the cultural importance of these centuries-old and at-risk traditions and such a privilege to listen to these facts through such a personal and passionate involvement as Shani and Joji have. On a table there were examples of the vibrant colours and beautiful embellishments in cloth from their own collection and I certainly left this mystical magical hour feeling inspired and intrigued. Thanks to both Joji and Shani and to the Friends of Te Papa organisers.

Visit our events page for more information or to book on the Friends Textiles Series presented by Shani and Joji

Deirdre Tarrant

Feature image: Detail from: Textiles samples displayed at Threads of Traditions talk.