‘Quilts of Southwest China’ showcases tradition, community, identity at Mathers Museum

A groundbreaking international exhibition at Indiana University’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures explores the cultural heritage of China through traditional quilts and other textiles.

“Quilts of Southwest China,” organized by a consortium of Chinese and American museums including the Mathers Museum, opens Jan. 21 and will feature 24 quilts.

chinese quilt

A bedcover from the Guangxi Province is one of the quilts that will be on display. Photo courtesy of the Mathers Museum

“’Quilts of Southwest China’ is a beautiful exhibition,” said Jason Jackson, director of the Mathers Museum. “It is visually rich, but also rich in culture and rich in significance for our museum. The textiles on exhibition are eye-popping expressions of culture and creativity, and the diversity of peoples in southwest China is also a surprise to many American exhibition-goers. Additionally, it is exciting for our museum to publically share some of the ongoing work that we have been pursuing with our Chinese and American museum partners.”

Some ethnic groups in southwest China have a longstanding practice of creating bedcovers and other household items made of patchwork and applique, and the works displayed in the exhibition reflect this tradition. While ceremonial and aristocratic Chinese textiles have a long history of being collected and documented, researchers have only recently turned their focus to everyday objects, like patchwork bedcoverings.

The binational consortium worked together to document and research the textiles — art forms dating back over 3,000 years, but obscure outside certain ethnic minority communities in China. “Quilts of Southwest China” brings awareness about ethnic groups and textile traditions of southwest China. It also highlights the importance of documenting and researching traditional arts, as the research and collecting done for this exhibition provides some of the first documentation of the making and use of these textiles. 

A number of special programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibit. All programs are free and open to the public and will be held at the Mathers Museum, unless otherwise noted.

  • Curating “Quilts of Southwest China” — A brownbag discussion featuring Lijun Zhang, an alumna of IU, Research Curator at the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities and co-curator of the exhibit, will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Jan. 20. The informal lunch will include discussion on the challenges and joys of a binational and bilingual project as well as the state of Chinese museums today. This event is co-sponsored by IU’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology 2017 Colloquium Series.
  • Exhibition Opening — A family-friendly celebration, featuring music and food, will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Jan. 21.
  • Family Craft Day — A Chinese New Year celebration, featuring cherry blossom painting, noise makers and other family friendly crafts, will take place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 29.
  • A Film Screening of “Peasant Family Happiness” — Directed by Jenny Chio, this film depicts the everyday experiences of “doing tourism” in two rural, ethnic tourism destinations in contemporary China: Ping’an and Upper Jidao villages. The screening takes place at 5 p.m. April 19.

A full list of events is available online.

“Quilts of Southwest China” will be on exhibit at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 416 North Indiana Ave., through May 7. A catalog of the exhibition is available in the Mathers Museum’s gift shop.

Free visitor parking is available by the Indiana Avenue lobby entrance. Further information about museum hours and parking options can be found online.

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