Getting a feel for dyeing at Made in Myanmar exhibition
YOU walk in, and the first thing you sense is the smell of cotton. All around you, piles of cotton fabric, mosquito nets, accessories and bags form a maze of handicrafts, and professional weavers work their looms in the corner. Welcome to Made in Myanmar 3 – an art exhibition like no other.
Instead of featuring ordinary paintings on canvas, social enterprise Sunflowers Group is currently showing art created by traditional textile methods.
The exhibition, held through October 13 at Lokanat Gallery, is the third iteration of a show that began in 2013.
“People normally think that handicrafts don’t qualify as art,” said organiser Phyu Ei Thein. “I want to change their mindsets with this exhibition.”
She believes that traditional weaving enterprises, like those featured in Made in Myanmar, are gradually fading out of practice.
“I would like to encourage the professional weavers,” she added.
And visitors too – on my trip to the gallery, I had a chance to experience tie-dying with some of the experts on hand.
Using white T-shirts and scarves, students from Saunders’ Weaving and Vocational Institute showed me how to design my own T-shirt.
First, I tied a handful of marbles along the corner of the shirt’s v-neck collar with string, forming a sort of necklace. Then I left the tied-up shirt to soak in water overnight.
The next day, I mixed nwe war (a root-like plant) and yay pu tone (a leafy plant) in boiling water for 30 minutes. According to my guides, the resulting mixture would enable a silvery colour for my design, so I squeezed out the first day’s water from my T-shirt and soaked it in the boiling bucket of coloured water.
The exhibition provided me three gloves – cloth, plastic and rubber – to wear on each hand during this stage.
Once the shirt had soaked in the dye, I sank it into a mixture of lime, sugar and rusted iron in order to help the colour set in.
Unfortunately, the colour came out more grey than silver, but I wasn’t too upset – after washing with water and untying the strings, I discovered that the marbles had enabled perfect little white circles around the neckline. Just like I planned.
Fellow visitor Saw Mon Theint, who works with the Bamboo Lovers Network, said the experiential exhibition is a good idea for younger generations, who are often unfamiliar with handmade goods.
“Most of them use imported clothes from China and don’t know about natural dyeing processes,” Saw Mon Theint said. “Unlike chemical dyeing, natural dyeing is made with bits of trees – such as leaves and bark – and does not cause environmental pollution.”
She did point out, however, that handmade goods can stretch the relationship between quality and price, and said that she prefers to pay a fixed price.
“I liked the weaving cotton cloth [K5000 per yard] but I found lots of warps in the weaving,” she said.
A traditional weaver demonstrates her craft at the exhibit, hosted by Lokanat Gallery. The exhibit runs through October 13.
A visitor at the Made In Myanmar 3 exhibit squeezes water from a dyed shirt during a tie-dyeing demonstration.
Traditional Myanmar dyeing uses plants such as nwe war (above) and yay pu tone (below) to create vibrant colours.