South Asia has long been famed for the beauty and diversity of its decoratively stitched cloth. Whether produced in male-dominated urban workshops or in the home by rural women and girls for personal and family use, embroidery served, and to a large extent still serves, multiple functions in daily and religious life. Embellished textiles are components of clothing; decorate tents, homes, palaces, mosques, and temples; cover animals; and serve other useful functions. They are required for many festivals and rituals, and are often essential for betrothal and marriage.
Historically, embroidered textiles have reflected the wealth and influence of rulers, courtiers, and favored courtesans. Among South Asia’s many peoples, they frequently identified family origins, personal status, and religious affiliation. With the increasing availability of imported and machine-made goods, urbanization, and changes in patterns of traditional life, some varieties of embroidery have all but disappeared. Others have survived, albeit in new forms, or have been revived in an effort to keep these handmade arts alive.
Color & Light Embroidery from India and Pakistan is drawn entirely from the Textile Museum of Canada’s rich holdings of South Asian textiles and incorporates the following themes: