Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Through observation, questions arise.
In the case of textiles of vanishing cultures, the answers most often lie buried in the past completely covered by the sands of time.
For it appears that too many of the tribes, nomads, gypsies and ethnic minorities – the creators of these wonderful arts – all seem to have focused on their ‘present’ and simultaneously have neglected the people in their future i.e. us.
And so today we are left with mere conjectures. Conjectures pieced together based on scraps of singular anecdotes handed down based on fading memories and reconstructions rather than real first-hand experiences.
In the case of tribal textiles or extinct textile art forms, even noted academicians and art historians are forced to promulgate their theories with a liberal smattering of words such as ‘perhaps’, ‘suggest’, ‘point to’, ‘could be’ ‘is likely’. And while their frustration at the lack of definitive proof even after spending years (& university funds) in research, is understandable and their conjectures commendable, they do not offer a sense of being the final word. We have no ‘truth’ or ‘fact’. And it appears that we are as far from the conclusive formula that explains it all as we were when we embarked upon this journey of understanding the history of cultural art. *
If it is not from the horse’s mouth, if the theory is not based on either a) direct observations that include statistically significant numbers of data points OR b) objective surveys with the number of respondents confirming a hypothesis in statistically significant numbers – as is the case with every irrefutable theory in physics or economics or marketing – and if all the evidence is sufficient only to create hypotheses and insufficient to confirm them statistically, if all the leading arguments are only anecdotal tales from a handful of people, then there is really no scientific basis to rule out other hypotheses based on alternate anecdotes or to confirm yours as the final truth.
The truth is buried deep under the sands of time along the paths of migrations.
And like every other curious & interested outsider, here I am, attempting to sweep away these sands with logic & scraps of information in the hope of seeing a glimpse of the ultimate treasure ‘truth’.
Others have examined motifs from the artistic, the evolution and origin perspectives. I am approaching the topic from the cultural background perspective. What was it that inspired a motif, what is the story behind its presence on a textile – and if there is a commonality in motifs between two groups that appear to be very different from each other, how is it that the motif is seen in the art of both?
These are the questions I will explore. I have no answers. Just questions. But not having the answers does not make this endeavor less holy or more tainted or unworthy of attention. It is questions such as these that have ‘launched a thousand “ships” (or journeys) – at least for me.
Enough rambling. Now onto some real examples in the forthcoming notes.
by Jaina Mishra