Weaving Connections Across the Western Indian Ocean in the Nineteenth Century

Arab merchant of Zanzibar, dressed in dishdasha, vest, turban, waist sash, c. 1848. Not seen is his hip wrapper (wizar). Lithograph from a daguerreotype by Charles Guillain. Public domain.

From ancient times, the Western Indian Ocean was an integrated space. Monsoon winds linked western India, Southern Arabia and eastern Africa (and far beyond), leading to exchanges in people, products, artforms and ideas. Textiles played a major role in these exchanges. Conventional wisdom holds that, in the nineteenth century, regional handcrafted textiles were obliterated by industrial imitations imported from Europe. A study of the precise textile types in play at the time reveals a different story. By combining studies of objects, archival evidence, and terminologies as well as consultations with contemporary practitioners, Sarah Fee's research suggests that many weavers and traditions innovated and flourished (and several new ones rose) in the nineteenth century. Focusing especially on cloth consumption in eastern Africa, Fee identifies the handcrafted textiles that defined luxury until the final decades of the 1800s. This research project into the handweaving arts of the Western Indian Ocean world in the nineteenth century is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
Date: April 15, 2021, Thursday, 12pm-1pm EST
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About the Speaker

Dr. Sarah Fee is Senior Curator, Global Fashion & Textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. She is responsible for the museum’s renowned collection of 15,000 textiles and fashions that come from greater Asia and Africa. Sarah began her textile research in Madagascar, and in recent years expanded to the western Indian Ocean world. Most recently she curated the exhibition "The Cloth that Changed the World: The Painted and Printed Cottons of India". Dr. Fee teaches in the Art Department, University of Toronto, and is a Research Associate at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.

This talk is moderated by Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi, Assistant Professor of Art, George Washington University. 
Please see this link to learn more her latest publication on South Asian textiles.

"Clothes with Names" (PDF)

Recommended readings for this talk authored by Dr. Sarah Fee

The Material Histories of the Indian Ocean World, 1500-Present webinar is generously supported by funding from Mason's College of Humanities and Social Science through the Interdisciplinary Programming Support Fund and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.
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