Bingata...Go Now!

The Triplett Sisters had an adventure in DC, with much to see. We went to a wonderful exhibition “Bingata! Only in Okinwa” at The George Washington Textile Museum. Our arrival was timed perfectly to participate in a tour by Curator Lee Talbot. (The exhibit was so wonderful we went back again!) I’m writing about it immediately because…IT CLOSES JANUARY 30, 2017. So, if you live in the DC area or can get to the DC area in the next few days, the exhibit is worth the effort.

Bingata is a technique which uses pigments and dyes to create wonderful multicolored fabrics. It can be done either freehand or with paper stencils. These techniques have been used for more than 300 years in the Ryukyu Kingdom (now the Okinawa Prefecture in Japan). This area because of maritime trade was known in East Asia and beyond for the wonderful textiles.

The exhibition focused on the clothing created using bingata within the context of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s royal court where the designs communicated the rank of the wearer. The royal court controlled production, and the use of bingata to the royalty, ruling class and theatrical costumes. Further designation of rank was created by the colors worn and patterns.

Part of the exhibition provides information on the process with a video demonstrating the techniques, but also through the delicate paper stencils in the case next to the garment made with the stencil. The exhibition also provides a glimpse at double ikat garments, another technique for which Okinawa/Ryukyu is known. A few Japanese garments are also on display to contrast the difference between the kimono with obi and dujin with tanashi.

Sadly with the collapse of the Ryuku Kingdom in 1879, bingata production declined. Thankfully after WWII artists returned to reclaim the techniques using available salvaged materials (even flour sacks and crayons) to revive the art form but with new vision and uses. The viewer gets a glimpse of the new artistry through a flour sack cloth, modern clothes, and theatrical backdrops.