Layers of Influence explores culture through cloth

Thursday 10th, November 2016 / 10:40
By Sydney Ball
Layers proves that no culture is exempt from wanting killer threads. This image: Imperial dragon robe from Qing Dynasty, China; only worn by Emperor and family, a sign of power. Image: Courtesy of Museum of Anthropology

Layers of Influence proves that no culture is exempt from wanting killer threads.
This textile: Imperial dragon robe from Qing Dynasty, China; only worn by Emperor and family, a sign of power.
Image: Courtesy of Museum of Anthropology

VANCOUVER — Layers of Influence: Unfolding Cloth Across Cultures is a new exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology that promises to be an enveloping experience. Curated by Dr. Jennifer Kramer, associate professor at the UBC Department of Anthropology, the exhibit is being put together to share and celebrate the creativity and time put into clothing, and to connect with how people all over the globe wear clothing to communicate their local and national identity.

“Every culture in the world expresses their identity in various ways through the clothing they wear,” Dr. Kramer says. “People invest huge amounts of time, effort, expense, into creating or having made clothing.” No matter where you are in the world, people use clothing to express what Dr. Kramer calls the four Ps: power, prestige, pride, and protection.

Cloth textile from the Asante people of Ghana. Image: Courtesy of Museum of Anthropology

Cloth textile from the Asante people of Ghana.
Image: Courtesy of Museum of Anthropology

Some of the garments on display include Japanese kimonos, Indian saris, and the feather cloaks of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s Maori people. The textiles themselves have been chosen in part for their aesthetic qualities of being unstructured and voluminous, as well as the care put into making them. Most of the pieces appearing in Layers of Influence won’t be put behind glass and can be looked at up close, with patrons being able to walk through large swaths of intricate cloths draped from the ceiling.

Dr. Kramer states that she wants to counter ideas that the textiles are “some rarefied thing from a faraway place” and reinforce that the exhibit is about looking at others. In fact, people are encouraged to show up on opening night in clothing either from their own cultural heritage or something that they strongly identify with to tie in with the notion that we all choose clothing based on how we want to be perceived.

Sumbanese men's ceremonial death shroud. Image: Courtesy of Museum of Anthropology

Sumbanese men’s ceremonial death shroud.
Image: Courtesy of Museum of Anthropology

Rather than imposing a narrative on the clothing being displayed or focusing on the political and economic lives of each piece, the garments will be presented rather simply, according to geographical area and without a large amount of context. Dr. Kramer’s aim is that the exhibit will be a space where the audience can feel free to take in the pieces while “letting [their] analytical brains go a bit.”

And just because the vision remains uncomplicated, that doesn’t mean the process of putting this show together was. The MOA has over 6,000 textiles in its collection that have been donated or acquired over the last 90 years, more than 130 of which were chosen for the exhibition. Textiles are very sensitive to light and atmosphere and many have never been displayed before, so this will be a rare opportunity to see some of these beautiful pieces up close.

Layers of Influence: Unfolding Cloth Across Cultures runs at the Museum of Anthropology from November 17 – April 9.

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