Japanese Textiles Inspire Vibrant Student Work
This early 20th-century Japanese Bozukappa (left) inspired the screen-printed cotton plain weave cape (right) by rising junior Adriana Gramily 19 TX/FAV.
RISD students have drawn inspiration from the RISD Museum’s incredible Asian textiles collection for more than 100 years. Former RISD President Eliza Radeke created the first textile study room at the museum in 1907, and longtime museum benefactor Lucy Truman Aldrich added more than 700 objects to the original collection. Now the museum is presenting student work prompted by a wide variety of Japanese textiles in Designing Traditions Biennial V, a vibrant exhibition on view in the Costume and Textiles galleries through January 14.
The show pairs pieces from the museum’s collection with work created last spring by approximately 50 Textiles students, mostly sophomores and first-year graduate students. They developed their submissions with guidance from faculty members Mary Anne Friel (Fabric Silkscreen), Brooks Hagan MFA 02 TX (Jacquard for Pattern), Lisa Scull 82 TX (Dobby Weaving and Design) and Joe Segal MFA 09 TX (Industrial Knitting).
“Kate [Irvin] and I met with Textiles Department Head Anais Missakian 84 TX last winter,” recalls the show’s co-curator Laurie Brewer, “and we decided to focus on Japanese textiles this time around. The tradition is so rich and varied, and we’ve been collecting pieces in recent years that fill gaps in the original collection, broadening our collecting practice and reflecting on folk cultures and smaller indigenous groups.”
Indeed, some of the recently acquired, less extravagant pieces—like a resist-dyed cotton plain weave under-kimono (or Han Juban, above) from the mid 1800s—inspired exceptionally compelling student work. Rising junior Tiffany Bushka 19 TX responded to the garment’s “short and boxy” silhouette with her screen-printed and quilted cotton canvas Pipe Vest, incorporating images of modern PVC pipes in a nod to present-day laborers.
Grad student Anjuli Bernstein MFA 18 TX was taken with a pair of horsehair and indigo-dyed bast-fiber leg protectors circa 1900 that the museum acquired in 2016. She responded to the “material quality” of the piece and created a series of sophisticated dobby weaves incorporating cotton, monofilament, cashmere, silk pique weave and horsehair sourced from a local farm.
“We were encouraged to conduct a deep investigation into the significance of the museum object in its day and in a contemporary context,” Bernstein explains. “I was inspired to create semi-transparent, folding space dividers for upscale interiors.”
The unusual silhouette of a man’s travel cape (or Bozukappa) from the early 1900s prompted two very different pieces selected for the exhibition: a knit cape by rising senior Lucas Montenegro Poole 18 TX and Children of the Sun, a screen-printed cotton piece by rising junior Adriana Gramly 19 TX/FAV. Poole focused on the original cape as enduring evidence of the cultural dialogue between turn-of-the-century Portuguese traders and Japanese merchants. He succeeded in his attempt to “upgrade the cape using different knitted and woven techniques that activate the human body.”
Gramly’s take was more personal and reflected on the marriage of her parents: her father, a native of Kansas (the Sunflower State) and her Bolivian mother, a descendent of the Incans, who considered themselves children of the sun god Inti. “I was also inspired by the construction of the museum piece,” she notes, “and how it made vertical lines into a zig-zag shape.”
Other students responded to the sumptuous objects from Aldrich’s original collection, including a Nō theater costume made of silk, gold leaf and paper and a 17th-century Jinbaori (Surcoat) in resist-printed silk. In researching Nō theater, rising senior Felix Beaudry 18 TX became familiar with the restless apparition that haunts the genre’s productions and was moved to create his own “friendly ghosts” in wool, cotton and rayon jacquard knit. Brewer was impressed by the sheer “depth of understanding” his pieces conveyed as well as the rich surface texture he created using large floats of mohair.
“The responses from the students vary so much,” Brewer says, “which is why this exhibition is always so fun to put together. Our goal in organizing the project was to teach students how to engage in a deep and meaningful way with other cultures—to avoid appropriating what came before and instead use the work as a springboard for making something new.”
Centuries-old textiles in the amazing collection at the RISD Museum inspire students to create stunning contemporary work in response to specific pieces.
Rising senior Malaika Temba 18 TX finds artistic inspiration in the rapidly changing culture of her father’s homeland.
Textiles major Anna Pederson 18 TX builds on her studio education through an apprenticeship in the RISD Museum’s contemporary art collection.