Symposium Exhibition: Arimatsu to Africa

Cultural Arts Gallery, 9 W. Henry St.

Arimatsu to Africa: Shibori trade, Techniques, and Patterns


Curated by Yoshiko Wada

Shibori is a traditional Japanese textile term widely used to classify shaped and resisted patterns created on cloth by plucking, stitching, folding, and then tightly knotting, binding, or clamping to compress and selectively resist dye penetration. Resulting patterns record the memory on cloth. Reading the resist marks, shibori artisans recreate or interpret patterns. This phenomenon may be observed in the correspondence of patterns and techniques in Japanese and African textiles. As part of shibori history, curators are aware of post-World War II shibori textiles produced for African export in the shibori center of Arimatsu, Japan. Recently we began to take a closer look, examining textile samples for African export, stored and forgotten in Arimatsu.

In the 1930s, Arimatsu merchants attemped to produce and market shibori fabric for Africa. Then World War II began. The wartime shortage of materials, shrinking demands for nonessential textile items, and postwar economics affected craft production. Cotton fabric had been under government control. During the war, Japanese citizens were obliged to donate metal or wood for military efforts including shibori tools and equipment. With traditional shibori production at the brink of economic extinction, the government released the cotton quota so the artisans could produce shibori. During 1948-49 a million yards of shibori were produced specifically to appeal to African markets.

We wonder whether some tie-resist and stitch-resist techniques we see on African export shibori may have influenced local artisans during the last 60 years and been incorporated into the African design lexicon. At the same time, we can examine Arimatsu shibori to see if this detour by Japanese artisans into African market influenced traditional Japanese folk shibori patterns. Examining this fleeting but historic, cross-cultural event will deepen our understanding of the creative impulse of artisans and how trade affected the traditional craft in Africa and Japan.

Curator and internationally known textile scholar Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, President of the World Shibori Network is a recipient of Indo-US Sub-commission Fellowship, Renwick Senior Fellowship, and the Japan Foundation Fellowship, twice. Her curated exhibitions include ‘The Kimono Inspirational’ at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC (1996); ‘Shibori: Expanding Tradition’ at the San Francisco Airport Museum (2002); ‘Silk Dichotomies’ at the Northampton Center for the Arts (2002); ‘Ragged Beauty: Repair and Reuse, Past and Present’ at the San Francisco Museum of Craft & Folk Art (2004); and ‘Meisen Kimono: Kitsch to Art Modern’ at the Kaneko in Omaha, NE (2015).

All exhibitions have been organized in partnership with Art Rise Savannah

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