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India Anonymous,
Sari, 1940-1960
315 in. (800.1 cm)

Object Type: Textile
Technique: Woven
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Henrietta Brewer
Accession Number: T593

Black cotton tabby with red and white silk end pieces.

Object Description
Black cotton tabby sari with red and white silk pallu, or end pieces. Red and yellow double border in arrowhead motif. West Indian.

When most westerners think of saris, they tend to visualize dazzling gold and silver brocades. It is important to remember however, that brocaded saris represent only a fraction of the larger sari tradition. Indeed, many other kinds of saris have a minimalist simplicity to rival even the most opulent pieces in beauty. This West Indian sari from the collection exemplifies a kind of sari whose the artistry is too often overlooked.

Within its simple geometric layout, a black ground accentuates the piece’s bright reds, yellows, and whites. The overall effect is boldly graphic. Less immediately striking, but no less important than the sari’s graphic appeal, is its carefully engineered drape. To create a sari light enough for hot weather, but heavy enough to hang neatly, its dense silk pallu are woven separately, and later joined to a thin cotton body with thickly woven borders. In many cases, a weaver will cover the jagged join between the sari’s pallav and body with a stripe. As in our piece, however, a weaver is just as likely to keep the join visible as testament to his skill.

In Western India, saris woven in both cotton and silk are particularly appropriate for weddings, “as they reflect the union of two distinct materials.” Because the piece is black, it was probably not a bridal sari, and could have been worn by a wealthy or middle-class woman in everyday life. Nonetheless, the sari’s combination of black and red carries ancient associations of fertility.

Kapur, Rta. Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond. Roli Books Private Ltd, 2010, 36-38.

Essay by Tara Contractor SC’13, Academic Year Wilson Intern, 2010-2011.

For more examples of saris, please see: T106, T593

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