All sorts of people have been giving their treasured fabric artworks to the East-West Center since it was founded in 1960, as a place to promote better relations among people of the United States, Asia and the Pacific. These gifts from government leaders, dignitaries, artists in residence, teachers, students and alumni usually serve broadly as the center’s decor, spread throughout the offices and hallways when not rotating through the common areas.
To celebrate this diverse collection in a more centralized way, and to commemorate the East-West Center Gallery’s 20th anniversary, curator Michael Schuster has assembled a sampling of about 50 of the most interesting pieces and put them on display together, complemented by a variety of special events through Sept. 20.
"When we have everything in one place, we realize how lucky we are," said Eric Chang, the center’s arts program coordinator. "We’re not a museum here, so we don’t have expensive storage space or archival resources. These gifts we have, we just want them to be enjoyed."
‘A COMMON THREAD: TEXTILES FROM THE PERMANENT COLLECTION’
An exhibition of fabric arts from the East-West Center Gallery that are rarely seen together
>> Where: East-West Center Gallery, John A. Burns Hall, 1601 East-West Road
>> “Identify Yourself: A Sneak Preview,” 2 to 3 p.m. Aug. 2: Sara Oka, curator of textiles at Honolulu Museum of Art, discusses an upcoming textile exhibition.
While technically this work could be examined year-round by the public, the practical reality is that the pieces are spread around the center’s grounds. Chang acknowledged, "It’s not often that people will be so curious as to wander the hallways just to see the collection."
Derek Ferrar, the center’s news and information specialist, added that some of the artwork is kept in the offices of center employees, which makes access difficult or awkward at times, when, for example, a meeting is taking place in that office.
This exhibit brings the pieces fully out into the open and shares their stories in a unified way, focused primarily on the art-making process, Chang said, including diverse examples of weaving, pounding, knotting, folding, needlework and dyeing. Some of the highlights: an imperial Chinese dragon robe from the 1890s, made from silk and metallic gold thread; a wedding kimono; and a large embroidered Indian bedcover.
The showcase also will feature examples of Indonesian and Malaysian batik as well as Cambodian ikat (dyeing processes), Iranian carpet weaving, Indian zardozi (a sewing technique, with gold string), Laotian silk weaving, Samoan siapo (using barked cloth), Uzbek suzani (needlework) and Filipino Bontoc weaving.
As an example of the ways in which different audience members might relate to different pieces in this exhibit, Chang said he recently visited Burma/Myanmar for the first time and returned with a new level of understanding about the samples of Burmese embroidery in the collection.
"We have some very nice examples," he said, "and I have a much greater appreciation for all of the time and effort these traditional pieces take."
As for funding such exhibits, the 1,000-square-foot East-West Gallery shares a roughly $80,000 programming budget with the performing arts arm of the organization, which presents concurrent events. The Asia Pacific Dance Festival is one such event; it continues through July 27 in nearby venues such as Kennedy Theatre. The gallery changes its theme three times a year but usually integrates fabric arts somehow.
"We love textiles here," Chang said. "It’s not always the highlight of our exhibit, like in this case, but we often will include textile art," especially through partnerships with the Honolulu Museum of Art, Bishop Museum and the Shangri La Center for Islamic Arts and Cultures.
"We like to highlight art that people don’t get a chance to see very often in Hawaii," Chang said. "We’re trying to give the community the opportunity to learn more about the region and, through artwork, learn more about the people and places that aren’t as commonly known."