Heatherwick Studio narrates its design journey at 'Building Soulfulness' in Japan
by Sunena V MajuMay 02, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by STIRworldPublished on : Mar 25, 2023
The world's love for mangas, movies, street life, fashion and food of Japan is not a surprising fact. Though this interest has been persistent for decades, the years in between transformed this curiosity into misleading obsessions and cultural appropriations, as is the case for most Asian countries and the global south. However, the recent years have been rather insightful for the world, to respectfully familiarise itself with Japanese history, culture and heritage. Manga, movies, music, street fashion and food from Land of the Rising Sun have gained infinite fans. Due to the same, recent discourses have probed deep into their beginnings. Amid the cultural importance of its food, the literary progress of movies, the futurism of its streets and the sustainability of its developments is a lesser-travelled path of textile and fashion history. Though kimono is a famous traditional attire, Japanese fashion is much more than one clothing and style. In fact, most often, the essence of clothing in Japan lies in the intricate detail and making process it adorns. One such technique associated with the rich art and craft culture of Japan is kumihimo. Translated as 'joining threads together,’ kumihimo is an intricate, decorative type of Japanese cord, braided from hand-dyed silk threads.
At Japan House London, for the first time in the UK, the exhibition KUMIHIMO: Japanese Silk Braiding by Domyo unveils this ancient yet contemporary Japanese art. Bringing this little-known art to life at the exhibition are large-scale installations, captivating videos, detailed presentations of tools and processes, as well as a comprehensive collection of more than 50 examples of the braids themselves. Through the different creations—varying from contemporary fashion to three-dimensional structures— the exhibition unravels the various stages, purposes and potential of kumihimo to raise the question of "What’s NEXT?"
While uncovering the past, the almost 1300-year history of the ancient technique is presented to the public to witness. The technique uses vivid colours and intricate patterns and is created by expert craftspeople who combine up to 140 hand-dyed threads, often made of silk. Historic mentions date back to 710 CE when Nara became Japan’s imperial capital. Then silk braiding in Japan was inspired by patterns and colours from the Asian continent. "In the ninth century, braided silk cords were used in clothing worn by aristocrats, for binding and hanging scrolls and as religious decoration in temples and shrines. Designs evolved and took on a uniquely Japanese character, becoming more complex and sophisticated in the process. From around the 10th century, it was the samurai classes who continued the tradition, using kumihimo to join together armour plating and as decorative ties for the scabbards of their swords. Today, however, many people in Japan will know kumihimo from its use as obijime —colourful cords which are tied on top of the sash, known as an obi, of a woman’s kimono,” states the exhibition brief.
At KUMIHIMO, the past, present and future of the technique are discussed in three sections—The History of Kumihimo, The Structure of Kumihimo and The Future of Kumihimo. The History of Kumihimo explores kumihimo's past, from the earliest evidence of braiding found in Japanese burial sites in the early Jōmon period (4000–3500 BCE). The Structure of Kumihimo features enlarged braiding frames, designed to bring guests closer to the process. The Future of Kumihimo explores present-day uses and possible futures in fashion, fine art and science, and invites visitors to consider what this cultural practice has to offer in the 21st century.
"This exhibition invites the visitor to come closer and delight in the beauty of intricate detail. The continuation in Japan today of the centuries-old tradition of producing kumihimo is not only a respect for what has gone before, but also a story of how this art can survive and provide a source of inspiration for the future. The skills of dyeing and braiding silk are acts that support people’s livelihoods; this is about sustainable business in the modern world. Through this in-depth exploration of kumihimo, I hope that we can discover more about the ties that bind us rather than that which might keep us apart," mentions Simon Wright, Director of Programming at Japan House London.
"I am honoured to have this opportunity to introduce kumihimo from Japan to the people of London. The technique of kumihimo, which has uniquely evolved in Japan over a period of more than a thousand years, expresses all manner of world views within a single thin, linear structure. I hope that visitors will get up close to kumihimo, study it carefully and get a real sense of its surprising complexity, delicacy and beauty,” shares Dōmyō Kiichirō, 10th generation CEO of Yusoku Kumihimo Domyo.
The design exhibition KUMIHIMO: Japanese Silk Braiding by Domyo is on display at Japan House London from February 23-June 11, 2023.
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