Pakistan stands proud at V&A

Annalisa Barbieri on a show which puts its crafts on a par with those of India

Pakistan has as fine a heritage of arts and crafts as India, but has long been overshadowed in western eyes by its larger neighbour. This week a major show celebrating the textiles of Pakistan - the first of its kind outside the country - opens at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in an attempt to put this right.

Colours of Indus: Costumes and Textiles of Pakistan opens on Thursday with a dazzling array of shawls, dresses, saris, shoes and turbans in vibrant colours and fine threads. The skills on display are in danger of dying out as the country becomes more urbanised.

Although the show is billed as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of Pakistan, the co-curators, Dr Nasreen Askari and Rosemary Crill, believe its importance is in giving Pakistan a separate identity from that of India.

"Pakistan has not had a distinctive existence, it's always been subsumed - India has a much more productive PR, its traditions are much better documented and understood," said Dr Askari, who spent three years working on the show.

Even within the V&A itself the department that deals with South Asia is called the Indian department. "So for me it was very relevant that I burrow into the bowels of the museum and separate Pakistan from India and give it its own platform," she said. Dr Askari began collecting in 1971. Her first piece was a dowry cloth, given to her by a patient while at medical school in Sind (Dr Askari is an oral surgeon). Since then she has been constantly adding to her personal collection.

"I'm the despair of my family as I travel to villages as much as I can when I go back," she said. Other items are from the V&A itself, or borrowed from museums and private family collections.

The exhibition follows the journey of the Indus - Pakistan's main river - across four provinces, from south to north, and provides a fascinating "woven" representation of Pakistan's topography, with local variations in weaving, embroidery, dyeing and printing.

It reveals that in neighbourhoods near running water, for instance, there are printing techniques that need water, while in regions which are hostile and encourage a more nomadic lifestyle, embroidery flourishes. The Sind region's varied terrain, with flourishing mangrove swamps, plains and deserts, is reflected in the diversity of the garments' decoration including tie-dyeing, weaving, printing and embroidery.

Although these arts still exist today, like all handicrafts around the world, they are not as practised as they once were. In Pakistan it is printing and weaving that are most in danger as they are the most labour intensive. But even in embroidery, modern ways encroach - the stitches may not be as fine as they once were, the dyes synthetic and brighter. Where once great works of art may have been made by entire families now they are commissioned out - and are expensive.

Colours of Indus runs from 9 October until 29 March

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test