RMIT Gallery is finishing preparations for its exhibition Power Cloths of the Commonwealth, Australia’s only cultural representation at the Delhi Commonwealth Games.Power Cloths of the Commonwealth celebrates key moments in Commonwealth history.
The curators have packed and shipped valuable textiles and Aboriginal fibre and textile works to India’s foremost government-funded craft and textile museum, the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, Ministry of Textiles, Delhi, where the exhibition will be held from 25 September – 20 October.
During the Delhi 2010 Games, events displaying Indian culture, heritage and folk lore will be held throughout the Games at several locations across the city. The diverse cultural panorama will include folk and classical dances, classical music, theatre and films as well as other creative skills, arts and crafts.
RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said it was significant that RMIT Gallery was partnering with India’s premier Museum in presenting Australia’s only cultural representation at the Commonwealth Games in India.
Ms Davies, who sits on the board of the Australia-India Council, said that the exhibition was an example of cultural diplomacy in action.
RMIT Gallery staff will be on hand from 15 September to set up the exhibition. Drawn from major museum and private collections from around the globe and covering all five continents, Power Cloths of the Commonwealth presents a tight selection of key historical and contemporary works, many of which have never before been viewed publicly.
RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies, former Chair of the Australia-India Council, co-curated the exhibition along with Delhi-based textile expert Professor Jasleen Dhamija. Ms Davies has been travelling to India to co-ordinate the exhibition and has seen first hand the country’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
“This exhibition highlights RMIT University’s commitment to a global education and its strong ties with India,” she said.
“The Chief Minister of Delhi, The Hon. Sheila Dikshit, encouraged RMIT Gallery on the basis of the outstanding past India collaborative show in 2006 for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, to create an exhibition for the Cultural Program of the XIX Delhi Games.
“We are thrilled to be presenting this stunning selection of works. It provides an opportunity to explore both the diversity and commonalities between constituent nations of the Commonwealth.”
Australia will be presented by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal textiles, including work by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Vicki Couzens, Maree Clarke, Marlene Scerri, Sara Lindsay and Kay Lawrence.
In relation to textiles, the idea of power has many intriguing connotations. For this exhibition power refers to a number of qualities and dimensions, including the power embodied in a garment by virtue of the excellence of technique in its making or the value of the materials from which it is made.
These include cloths of high aesthetic value which were traded around the world, such as the rare painted and printed Kalamkari created by Gujarati masters, which can be dated to 14th/16th century.
Textiles also signify political power or political positions of resistance and independence – Gandhiji Khadar Chader, the Gandhi Topi and Khadi as the livery of the freedom fighters; Nkrumah’s Kente cloth as the dress of Ghanian independence and identity; the boldly embroidered Hausa Nigerian Gown, the Riga; Nelson Mandela’s shirt; Jomo Kenyata’s fly whisk or Queen Victoria’s gloves representing the centralised power of the Commonwealth.
Power may arise from the spiritual, mystical or symbolic cultural status of the garment or cloth, like the clothing of a shaman. Such powers may also be embodied in the configuration of particular forms / shapes / images such as in the shaman’s wrapper from the Iban, Malaysia, or the Naga head hunters’ shawl. Ritually powerful cloths are further represented by the spectacular Yoruba masquerade costumes, and the Egungun masks.
There is a particular focus on ceremonial cloths used by indigenous communities from Canada, New Zealand and Australia, including the possum skin cloak made by Australian Aboriginal elders and gifted to the former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Mr John So.
Finally, the exhibition acknowledges the imaginative and transformative power of celebration as seen in costumes from events such as Carnevale and the festivals that make countries unique such as the extravagance of costumes from Trinidad and Tobago.
Power Cloths of the Commonwealth has been supported by the Australia-India Council, the Australia International Cultural Council, Arts Victoria and Art SA.