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Review of TCU in Toronto by Alejandra Gómez Colorado

Alejandra Gomex Colorado was the TSA scholarship recipient for this program. She is a Social Anthropologist specializing in Islamic Art and Culture. She is professor and curator for the Middle East collections at Museo Nacional de las Culturas (National Museum of Cultures) in Mexico. 

Textiles Close Up: Treasures of Islamic Textiles & Art in Toronto, November 10-11, 2014

For 2 days I had the opportunity to go deep into the Islamic textiles collections in Toronto.

On our first day at the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr. Anu Liivandi and Dr. Lisa Golombek, guided us into the exhibition, “Cairo Under Wraps”. The exhibition features 80 precious Early Islamic textiles and costume dating from the 7th to 14th centuries. As we were told, the ROM has the most important collection of early tiraz textiles with historical inscriptions outside of Egypt. Dr. Liivandi, Curator of Textiles & Costume and Dr. Golombek, Curator of Islamic Art, worked together to show the visitor the artistic and cultural background of these tiraz. The display was very clear and rich in information that really helps to understand the cultural context and the importance of these textiles.

After the tour Dr. Lisa Golomek offered a lecture related to the burial context of the textiles we saw in the exhibition: “In Quest of Paradise: Accommodating Death in Islam.”

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We had a delicious lunch at the Far Eastern Library, inside the museum, at which I learned the personal interests of the group; curators from the Canadian and US museums had specific interests in textiles while the independent audience was interested in Islamic culture.

Dr. Anu Liivandi gave us a real close-up look at the materials (glazed cotton, linen) and techniques (embroidery, tapestry) of the tiraz collection we had seen in the exhibition.

Then textiles ROM conservator Chris Paulocik explained to us the process to protect this wonderful tiraz from light, statics, and abrasion among other factors. She worked closely with Jenny Poulin, Scientist of the Canadian Conservation Institute, to identify the dyes, gold decoration and glazing material in the tiraz. The results are amazing. The discussion flourished. But one question remains… How did the Egyptians of the Middle Ages make the gold thread?

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One of the most exciting moments was the analysis, which we were able to do inside the Textiles & Costumes section of the ROM where Dr. Liivandi displayed some tiraz going on loan to the Aga Khan Museum. We saw them through the microscope and had some discussions about them with all the information we had already received.

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We finish our day with a warm reception at the home of Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf who kindly shared their collection of Turkeman carpets and jewellery.

Our second day started in the newly opened Aga Khan Museum where Nasira guided us trough the permanent collection and two of the current temporary exhibitions. We were behind the scenes to visit Curator Filiz Cakir Phillip and her staff, who showed us some of the Islamic costumes that will be on display in the AGK. Here the discussion was rich again and the experts provided information about these wonderful objects.

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After lunch, we visited the Textile Museum of Canada where Curator Natalia Nekrassova guided us through the temporary exhibition From Ashgabat to Istanbul: Oriental Rugs from Canadian Collections. We enjoyed more than 70 exquisite carpets, tent bands and animal trappings from Central and West Asia, carefully chosen from collections across Canada. The exhibition also includes historical photos to explain how the carpet trade began in Canada and how important it was.  Roxane Shaughnessy, President of the TSA, kindly offered a tea reception an the TMC in which all of us enjoyed delicious fruits and cakes and had the opportunity to have the exhibition’s catalogue signed by Curator Nekrassova.

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To close with a flourish some of us attended a public lecture by Louise W. Mackie, Islamic Art Curator, Cleveland Museum of Art, entitled Power Textiles from Islamic Lands, at the ROM where this wonderful adventure through the Islamic world began.