12 February 2016 -
Design History Society Day Symposium, Transnational Textiles: New Directions (27 November 2015), Northumbria University at Newcastle.
Dr Elizabeth Kramer
The generous Design History Society Day Symposium Award enabled the symposium Transnational Textiles: New Directions to take place at Northumbria University in November. The Symposium brought together academics, students, practitioners and museum professionals based in the UK and Scandinavia to share their interest in transnational textiles.
Transnational Textiles reflects a recent focus on more globally representative studies of design history through its investigation of the ways in which transnational textiles and fashion challenge mainstream discourse. Speakers examined textile and fashion design, production, distribution and consumption to explore the interconnectedness of multiple cultures, including African, Chinese, European, Indian, Japanese, North American and Scandinavian.
The Symposium demonstrated that design inspiration as well as the manufacturing, marketing and consumption of textiles did not flow in one direction. Rather, a dynamic, ongoing cross-cultural dialogue emerged. This fluidity was demonstrated in Angela Jansen’s paper, which explored the inspiration Yves Saint Laurent drew from Morocco and the inspiration that Maison Joste, a salon de haute couture in Casablanca under the direction of Tamy Tazi, drew from the French designer. The ways in which transnational textile design, production and consumption relate to issues of identity and cultural production was also a dominate theme of the Symposium. Nicola Stylianou’s paper demonstrated how the gele, an elaborate headwrap manufactured and worn by women internationally, challenges the rigid categories frequently used to categorise dress practices: ‘fashionable’, ‘traditional’, ‘local’ and ‘global’. Through an examination of personal archives and oral histories, Elli Michaela Young’s exploration of fashion from the 1950s-1975 revealed how dress could be made, worn and photographed to control one’s own representation of self, community and place, in constructing a modern Jamaica.
Tereza Kuldova’s paper demonstrated an increased decentralisation of Europe in the discussion of contemporary design. The fashion industry is under increased pressure to prove itself socially and environmentally responsible and ethical. Kuldova explored the ways in which philanthrocapitalism impacts on Indian fashion, questioning whether its initiatives provide better opportunities for the majority of India’s textile workforce.
The Symposium also revealed how transnational textile exchanges drew connections between debate regarding the division of craft, design and art in relation to cultural identity. While textiles were related to ideas of ethnicity and nationalism in Europe following the First World War, Sabrina Rahman showed how the Austrian Werkbund translated diverse vernacular forms and motifs into a transnational modernity, intended to be circulated locally and globally. Leena Svinhufvud tracked the impact of Finnish artists Loja Saarinen and Marianne Strengell, and Swedish artist Maja Andersson Wirde, on the education programme in weaving offered at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan (1930s-40s) and discussed the wider implication of the introduction of Scandinavian handloom weaving in America.
Papers also looked at the ways in which transnational textiles serve as a site at which circumscribed identities are challenged and dissolved. Wessie Ling examined the cultural significance of Red-White-Blue, a polyethylene material with a history of use across Asia (and globally as revealed in further examples provided by an enthusiastic audience) that is used to represent Hong Kong local spirit in art as well as in commercial spaces. Elizabeth Kramer interrogated the fashionable kimono jacket to show how the kimono as a source of inspiration goes beyond exoticism, through a discussion of embodiment.
The Symposium allowed speakers and audience to reflect on the shared meanings that historic and contemporary transnational textile exchange produces globally.