Although London is often described as the hub of Britain’s creativity, we’re lucky that here in the North, we have Manchester. Home to great fashion, television and radio, plus the cultural stimulation of its art galleries and museums. Manchester Art Gallery’s central location is close to the imposing Central Library and the impressive shopping districts. With an eclectic mix of art and design in both their permanent collection and their temporary exhibitions, the gallery is currently showcasing ‘South Asia Design’ situated at the top of the museum in the ‘Gallery of Design’.
The creative impact that South Asian design has had on European culture is evident in our everyday lives. Bright colour and intricate patterns are a key component of the region, finding their way into clothes and homeware. Just take a look at your local high street, where eye-popping ceramics and beautifully embroidered throws are coveted by many. The famous Paisley print originates from the South Asia region, too. Formerly known as ‘Mango’ in many of the languages of India, it was exported to Europe by the East India Company in the 1600s. Cheaper printed versions of this distinctive, teardrop shaped motif were produced in great quantities by textile manufacturers in Paisley, Scotland, hence the common name many of us associate it with.
But besides the beauty and the frivolity of enjoying lovely design, South Asia Design has a more important message to convey. It lends itself as a visual reminder of its history, symbolising the suffering by British oppression and plundering during the colonial era. Immigration and all that implies is a hot topic in today’s news and in people’s minds, making this exhibition as timely as ever.
It sets out to explore the part that religion has played, and how modern South Asian designers are innovating their history for newer generations. Mixed in with stunning Manish Arora fashion designs and historical pottery, are modern light installations, one of which is inspired by the harsh reality of exile, highlighting the estimated 400 million internal migrants in India alone. Further along, on display a single camel’s knee band, its use of mirrors thought to deflect the evil eye, which could be overpowered by anything that dazzles and makes it blink.
And that’s the intriguing beauty of this exhibition. It is very pretty to look at, but it also teaches you a lot. A quick glance around the displays and the simple charm of the designs are a source of inspiration. Yet, their eye-catching quality draws you in closer, inspiring you further.
South Asia Design Exhibition: Manchester Art Gallery, until June 10 2018 (Free Admission)
About Our Author: Katie Calvert's background is in fashion and textiles with a first class honours degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion and experience in trend, PR and events. She decided to take the plunge back into education in 2015 to complete a Master of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Using these newfound skills and her love of fashion and culture, Katie has been freelance writing for over a year.