A Bug A Cactus and World Domination

Textiles and dyeing techniques seem to have suddenly become the topic du jour for museum shows. About two  weeks  ago, I was reading Rainey Knudson’s excellent review in Glasstire  of the Ikat textile show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; I see there is a show of waxed batik at the Dallas Museum of Art, and just last week I stumbled into the magnificent show “The Red That Colored the World” at the El Paso Museum of Art.
This show comes from the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe and explores the importance of cochineal dye throughout the ages and throughout the world.
The dye comes from the cochineal bug happily feeding on the prickly pear cactus and if you think this is a bit too arcane or tedious you need to think again. This is a remarkably vibrant show.
The discovery of using this bug for a particular shade of red and its variations first occured in both Mexico and Peru centuries ago, but with the conquest of the area by Spain it soon spread throughout the world. We often think about the Spanish conquest in terms of gold or maybe chocolate but this dye became the third most important trading item for them and was used in all kinds of ways.

In addition to telling the history and showing the spread of the dye back to Europe then to Asia and back again to the Americas. It displays all sorts of items on view from bags to ancient huipils centuries  to paintings centuries old to dresses made in 2014. The dye was used for the English “redcoat”uniforms in the Revolutionary War and in items we use today.  It was found in Native American weavings and along the silk road. I mentioned the Ikat exhibit because I believe there is a tie-in. The Ikat weavings were from Bukhara and Bukhara was one of the important stops along the way for the trade of the dye to Asia.
This is a marvellous show and there is even a section where you can try on various red colored pieces of clothing and take photos of yourself. Photography is not allowed in the rest of the show.
It  will be up through August 20 and unlike most of the previous majot shows at the Mueum this is free. -david sokolec

 

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