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Everlasting fashion: Selection of phulkari textile art at Art Museum’s Pereleman Building

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STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

Through July 9, you can check out “Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection.”
What’s that?
Painstakingly ornate and symbolic textiles that come from the region that straddles India and Pakistan. Phulkari means “flower work,” and there are colorful images of lotuses and cassia; as well as animals; village scenes; complex geometric patterns conveying good fortune and social status; and more. The Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition includes pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, and high-fashion ensembles by one of India’s leading designers, Manish Malhotra. It explores how making and wearing phulkari has been shaped by women, and how it has evolved into a symbol of pride.
How so?
A folk art tradition, they were a symbol of cultural identity in Punjabi life up to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, then became synonymous with the new nation of Pakistan. Over the last 50 years, phulkari techniques and patterns have experienced a revival, especially in commercial art. The exhibit includes videos showing how phulkari influences contemporary music and dance.
Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Sikh women (who consider the Punjab their holy land) alike stitched phulkaris. The young girls of the region learned needlework from older female relatives and friends. They often created the embroideries for their dowry, which they brought to their new homes when they married.

Sainchi Phulkari from the early 20th century. Handspun, handwoven plain weave (khaddar) with silk and cotton embroidery in darning and chain stitches.

Usually worn by women as large shawls on special occasions, phulkaris were also made as blankets, furniture covers or hangings.
Often a woman could afford to buy only a little silk thread at a time, resulting in a single bagh having threads from different dye lots, each slightly varying in color. It reflects the artist’s sacrifice of money and time.
This is at the Art Museum?
You’ll find it in the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building at 2525 Pennsylvania Avenue. Specifically, it’s in the first-floor Joan Spain Gallery.
Does regular Art Museum admission include the Perelman Building?
Yes. It’s $20, $18 for seniors 65 and over, $14 for students, youths 13-18), free for children 12 and under. Hours there are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
What’s the museum’s web address?
www.philamuseum.org. Also check out @philamuseum on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, and @PhilaArtMuseum on YouTube.

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