Last Tuesday I went to London with Sara and Sam to see the exhibition of Boro at Somerset House.
Photography was permitted and Sam was given a postcard of one textile to try and find - good thinking.
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.