Ikat explores the Asian textile tradition by focusing on a particular technique of textile embellishment that is employed throughout the region, from the Central Asian Republics in the west, to the outer Indonesian islands in the east, and including mainland Southeast Asia, India and Japan. The exhibition explores the use of ikat technique, in which the threads of a fabric are resist dyed before they are woven, so that as the cloth is woven a pattern appears. The exhibition will explore the range of motifs and media and the context of Asian ikat textiles and costume. The 53 works in the exhibition are drawn mainly from the Asian permanent collection. They include flat textiles and costume.
Ikat is a Malay-Indonesian word that means "tied" or "bound" and as such it describes a dye process, specifically the binding of one or both sets of threads prior to dyeing and weaving. However, the term is now broadly used to describe both the process and the textile produced. Artists from each of the geographic areas represented in the exhibition have utilised the ikat technique to produce a wide variety of distinctive textiles, each with a particular name. These include the brilliantly coloured silks of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other Central Asian regions, which were produced in the Silk Road oasis towns in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, patterned with an astonishing array of abstracted floral and geometric designs, and known as abr or "banded cloud"; the indigo dyed cotton ikats of Japan, known as kasuri, often patterned with a minimalist, abstract pattern; the fine silk double-ikat patola of Gujarat, occasionally patterned with elephants and tigers; and the rich, robust cotton ikat hinggi of the Indonesian island of Sumba.
The diversity in design, palette and medium within Asian ikat textiles and costume forms one of the main themes of the exhibition, which also explores the journey of the ikat tradition throughout Asia. Ikat textiles are utilised and produced in diverse contexts and this variety is also described. The influence of the ikat aesthetic on European fashion is indicated by the inclusion of two European dresses from the eighteenth and nineteenth century.