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Past Exhibitions

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Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth

Mar 9 – May 29 2023

Seattle Art Museum

Simonyi Special Exhibition Galleries

Of all the cloth in the world, ikat stands out. Creating this textile requires dedication, if not devotion, to the power of each and every thread that is tied to resist dye. A grandmother in Indonesia recently described the 56 steps it takes her each time she assembles the materials, calculates the colors and patterns, and then ties for months before weaving. Yet, even when following each step, the process defies exact linear design. Wikipedia calls ikat “blurry,” but others acclaim it as a hovering reminder of the value of the inexact. With ikat, we learn to appreciate illusion, not illustration.

Organized by the Seattle Art Museum, this wide-ranging exhibition highlights the ongoing global reach of the complex ikat textile. Over 100 ikats will be on view, combining textiles from SAM's global collection with many new promised gifts and loans from illustrious Seattle-area private collections.

Visitors to the exhibition will be welcomed by the unprecedented experience of walking into an ikat, as devised by Rowland and Chinami Ricketts. She is offering her vision as a trained ikat weaver, and he is collaborating with her on a commission involving months of work with their indigo dye vats and a small mountain of custom-spun yarn long enough to flow from floor to ceiling in the museum’s gallery.

A world tour of the regions where ikat has thrived will follow. Over 100 examples spanning the last three centuries will be drawn from a collection that is also an act of dedicated discovery over the last 40 years by Seattle-based patron David Paly. Selections will lead the way to Africa, across the Americas, through Asia, along the Silk Route, and a brief stop in Europe. Bringing ikat into the 21st century will be seen in the work of one American artist and a dozen Indonesian artists brought together by Threads of Life, an organization that encourages ikat to continue to thrive.

Ikat’s resistance to the obvious leads it to reveal intriguing images. Slow viewing is often required to realize that stripes are harboring protective figures or that a cloth is actually a diagram of the cosmos. A wall of futon covers offer designs to sleep under in Japan, a wall of African garments ignite pulsing accents, and a sequence of coats from Uzbekistan glow with kaleidoscopic mazes. Cloth’s comfort is also enlarged to create zones of sacred space. Some banners and shrouds carry dynamic warning signs of curling vines with twisting serpents and crocodiles or rely on bold graphics to keep harmful realities at bay.

Currently, ikats are not seen in museums as often as “faux” versions abound in printed abbreviations on factory-printed cloth that truly are blurry. Bolts of cloth for fashion and furnishing labels take away the precision, texture, and significance of original ikats and deliver what ads call the ideal “bohemian ethnic chic.” How to distinguish an original hand-dyed, handwoven cloth from such cliché adaptations will be explored in a hands-on portion of the exhibition.

Ikat is a radical departure from the reliance on the factory-made cloth that surrounds us. This spring at SAM, be reminded of the potential power of the woven world to carry the sacred into view.

Presenting Sponsors



Generous Support
ArtsFund/Guendolen Carkeek Plestcheeff Fund
  for the Decorative and Design Arts
Contributors to the SAM Fund

Pardah hanging (detail), late 19th century, Silk Road (Uzbekistan), silk, warp ikat, cotton weft, 90 x 65 in., Collection of David and Marita Paly

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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