Costumes from Ethnic China at the Museum of International Folk Art

Although I dislike sewing (and actually dont know how) I have always liked rickrack. Rickrack in concept (to a non-sewer) allows for ribboning of hems collars sleeves. It may not be rickrack that embosses the splendid small saddle, part of the spellbinding exhibit Writing with Thread (through August 16 at Santa Fes Museum of International Folk Art), but it reminded me of the impulse to be decorated that unites dance cultures in the Americas with cultures in Southwest China that are responsible for these brilliant 500 ethnic minority costumes on display. These are simply unbelievable garments and costumes. Move over Rei Kawakubo.Included in the array was a small saddle of embroidered silk I would die to ride in, had I lived when Tale of Genji were written. This exhibition curated by Angela Sheng, Assistant Professor of Chinese Art History at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, borrows its masterpieces from the collection of the Evergrand Museum, Taoyuan, Taiwan. Please appreciate the size of the people who sewed these garments or for whom they were made. O sumptuous moment slower go, that I may gloat on thee.

What is striking in these exhibits of so called domestic objects is how they attest to how little we actually experience in the human trajectory. I for one have never worn a yak rainsuit much less with a hat that crosses a cloudstreaked flying saucer with the gay little nubbin seen on a Scottish tam. All this beneath a very broad brim that only the likes of my dear friend Xtine could carry off. You tote half the animal around on your back and probably were something to happen (cyclone? banditry?) you could tent your clothing as a stay against freezing. And then when you put it back on again it would prove itself to be wash and wear.

What is gorgeous in this exhibit above all is color. Bluer than blue. Crazy fabric belts. The materiality of fabric wrapped, turbaned, crisscrossed, belted, folded, starched. Your imagination goes to work. What would be secreted beneath those stays? Weapons? A child? Or merely layers of long yak underwear (against cold winters)? As I stood salivating over the saddle and truly reflecting on whether it had been for a pony or possibly an alpaca? Conrad and David (who was visiting from New York) sparred gently over where precisely southwestern China is or is not. I wasnt listening. Only busy having a chatter in the mind with my girlfriends, not present. And pointing my little Canon about which I make few claims save for my modest but heartfelt enthusiasm in face of works that would make you speechless if you werent too busy ah-oohing.

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