Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth @ SAM

A fiber arts deep dive 👘

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Brought to you by Seattle Art Museum

A crowd gathers for the Ikat press preview tour with curator Pam McClusky on March 7 2023 at Seattle Art Museum.
Through May
29

From the curtain aisle at Target to the walls of minimalist Airbnbs, textiles modeled on traditional ikat are having a moment. But these splotchy approximations are no substitute for the real thing: A meticulous approach to fabric dyeing and weaving that results in bold colors and shapes, ikat is the Magic Eye of fabrics. Take the time to look closely at these cloths and surprises emerge. What first appears as soft-edged geometry morphs and shifts into unexpected figures, floral motifs and even depictions of the known universe.

You won’t find that in mass-produced homewares. But you will at the Seattle Art Museum exhibition Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, a deep dive into the history of the fabric, first developed in Indonesia. From kimonos, robes, furnishings, and other cloths to immersive, floor-to-ceiling textile installations, the SAM show reveals the intricacy of ikats—and exposes the “bohemian ethnic chic” imitation espoused by bougie home decor conglomerates. There’s just no comparison. Nice try, Home Goods throw pillows, but the idiosyncratic joy of ikats is something that could only come from hand-dyeing and -weaving—visitors can glimpse this painstaking process with videos of ikat artists at work.

That vibrant collision of abstraction and representation, beauty and practicality, form and function sets ikats apart. They’re meant to be used. From futon toppers in Japan to polychromatic coats from Uzbekistan, ikat overlaps with the worlds of fashion, interior design, and more. It’s the stuff of dreams for fiber-arts nerds—and a reminder for all of us commercial home décor chains don’t have a monopoly on beautiful, functional art.

📸: Courtesy Seattle Art Museum | Photo by Chloe Collyer

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