Friday, 18 April 2014

"Boro: Threads of Life" Exhibition at Somerset House

Last Tuesday I went to London with Sara and Sam to see the exhibition of Boro at Somerset House.
We were somewhat delayed by having a wonderful time playing in the fountains in the sunshine but eventually made it to the East Wing Galleries.

Photography was permitted and Sam was given a postcard of one textile to try and find - good thinking.
You can see in this photograph how the textiles were displayed.

I delayed writing this post as at least one friend is visiting the exhibition this week.  I wanted them to be able to make up their own mind, unclouded by preconceptions from my report.  I have say I was disappointed with "Boro:  Threads of Life".  Not with the textiles themselves, but with the manner in which they were exhibited.
There were a few items that were exhibited in the way I expected, as the original garments were made and used in Japan.  (Apologies for the strange tint to the photographs, it seems to be a result of the exhibition lighting).
Most textiles, however, were exhibited like this.  As if the exhibition was an art gallery.  The pieces were all of similar shape and size.  Several pieces appeared to have been mounted on new fabric and all the pieces had been smoothed over stretcher frames or similar.
Sara and I were both astonished at how flat and thin the boro was, so much so that I took a photograph of the edge of a piece that wasn't mounted in this style.
Nowhere could I find any information about the boro, no origin, age, description, nor on the way they had been mounted for exhibition.  Each item had only a number alongside it.  The book accompanying the exhibition was simply a collection of photographs of the items.  I feel the textiles must have been reduced in many cases to their outer layer, they certainly appeared to have had the guts ripped out of them.
Moving closer gave some texture but the overall impression was of a flat, almost lifeless, sea of blue.  Am I being too harsh in my disappointment?  Maybe I should have been inspired by the innovation of the exhibitors.
"They carry with them the evocation of family members, the presence of ancestors" it states in the exhibition guide.  It was exactly this that I felt was missing.  These historical textiles had somehow been reduced to gallery exhibits (with enormous price tags I later discovered) and their life and soul, their very integrity, had been removed along with the creases, filling and lumps and bumps.

I must state that I am not opposed to using old textiles in new ways, nor to individual expression and creativity but this exhibition contradicted itself in using the traditional words to talk about the boro while treating them in a way that disparaged all those words.  It was sad and we were glad to get back out into the sunshine and the fountains!  For another perspective on the exhibition and more pictures, including some good interior views of the galleries, you might like to pop over to Susan Briscoe's blog post here.


  1. Anyone with an eye for 'art' will love the patterns created by the patches in boro. However, to me boro is so much more than the shape and combination of pieces. As you say the lumps and bumps, but also the shape of the garments and the evidence that these items were made and used by people for the purpose of survival are lost in this 'arty' exhibition. I am so glad I have been to Amuse in Tokyo!

  2. A shame that the exhibit was a disappointment. Think of the fun we had at Amy Katoh's display. People need to have an understanding of what they are looking at.

  3. What a shame there wasn't much info - good job we've got you to educate us if the exhibition doesn't. !

  4. Turning the Boro into art pieces don't work in that gallery setting. The look as though the character of the cloth has been squeezed out of it. No wonder you were disappointed. But at least able to have some fun with the water fountains outside in nice sunny weather!

  5. It was interesting to see boromono displayed in a different way, but I found the information panels (or lack of them) rather annoying. No explanation about which areas different pieces came from etc. nor what most of them were - futon covers, furoshiki and the like, not flattened out noragi. I also didn't like the fact that mounting them meant the right sides of many were hidden and there was no sense of boro as either a two sided item or that we were looking at the backs. I don't know if the pieces were mounted while they were part of the Morita Collection or after they were brought to France. The gallery assistant tried to explain the high prices by saying that they were expensive to mount, but I know the kind of cost of custom canvas stretchers and several yards of wide linen, and it isn't £20,000. Another visitor said the use of the gallery had cost £8,000 - I would guess that was per week, for central London. I had to be a bit tactful in my blogpost, because I suspect the exhibition staff might read it - I gave them my website address! Looking forward to the Amuse Museum but at least in the meantime I can play with my own little boro collection.

  6. I totally agree with you especially about the lack of information about individual pieces. I dearly wish there had been a date and location to them. I had to imagine the places they came from. I was stuck between disappointment with the curation and awe at something that i was lucky to see at all.


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hugs, Lis x