The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present an exhibition of woven textiles made by the Zo peoples of South Asia, including works that range from ceremonial tunics and wrap skirts to mantles, capes, blankets and loincloths.
“Art of the Zo: Textiles from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh,” which will run Nov. 11 to March 20, features traditional weavings worn for daily life and ceremonial occasions, such as weddings, funerals and feasts. The exhibition comprises works from the museum’s collection of costume and textiles, supplemented by gifts and loans from David W. and Barbara G. Fraser, co-authors of “Mantles of Merit: Chin Textiles from Myanmar, India and Bangladesh” (River Books Press).
The exhibition showcases the patterns, techniques and local variations that contribute to the beauty and craftsmanship of these woven treasures. Zo weavers create textiles that vary from unpatterned, indigo-dyed cloth and simple, colorful stripes to complex weaves that resemble embroidery. Among the highlights is a cotton blanket produced in a warp-faced weave around 1900 that would have been used in ceremonies for the sacrifice of a mithan, a semi-domesticated, oxlike animal. Also included is a Dai woman’s gray-and-white wedding blanket woven between 1920 and 1960 that would have been created for a bride by her mother, along with shoulder cloths decorated with glass beads and metal bells that could double as baby carriers. A variety of men’s loincloths are on display as well, woven of cotton and silk.
In addition to textiles, various adornments are featured in the exhibition, including earrings, bracelets and necklaces made of metal, glass and mirrors.
The exhibition includes an example of the back-tension looms made of bamboo rods and wooden sticks that are traditionally employed by the Zo peoples to produce their fabrics. The simple loom is shown with a partially woven cloth next to a finished example from the museum’s collection to offer insight into the weaving techniques. A video presentation, photographic details of selected works, and graphics of specific weave structures further demonstrate the Zo skills.
The Zo peoples, of Tibetan-Burmese origins, have lived in mountainous regions of south Asia for hundreds of years. They comprise about 50 linguistic groups, culturally related through language, the values surrounding their textiles, and the structure and technique of their weavings. Prior to the arrival of missionaries in the mid-1800s, they worshiped ancestral spirits and spirits dwelling in nature. Today, most are Christian. Encouraged by missionaries to give up their traditional textiles, today Zo weavers continue to make them and often sell them as collectibles.
The exhibition is located in the Perelman Building’s Joan Spain Gallery.