- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

The color red, widely considered the world’s most provocative color, explosively inspires the Textile Museum’s current exhibit “Red.” Illustrating the color’s importance over centuries and continents with 21 rare textiles ranging from Asia to America, the museum demonstrates the color’s dynamic implications and uses.

Red’s importance goes back to the exhibit’s oldest weavings. Two Peruvian, pre-Columbian, 2,500-year-old textile fragments depict fanged, godlike figures and show red’s early associations with religion and power.

Fortunately, the country’s dry, southern areas of the advanced Chavin culture preserved them.

Exhibit curator Rebecca Stevens further demonstrates that red’s power doesn’t falter even now. For example, she mounted American-German artist Thomas Cronenberg’s magnetic self-portrait “Identity Series: Tommy USA” in which he uses red to characterize his heterosexual and homosexual worlds.

A humorous twist on his Americanness is his picturing himself in a Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt.

“There is a sense of urgency about red which is appropriate to the emotionally charged content of the piece,” Mr. Cronenberg writes in the adjunct wall label. “Another aspect is that red is associated with the sensual, the erotic and vice and many people think in those terms when they hear the word ‘gay,’ so that was another reason to use red.”

Miss Stevens emphatically says, “We want people to come here and think of their experience with red,” and, obviously, red as sexual trumpeter is familiar to most of us.

Red embodying sex couldn’t be clearer than in the show’s “Dress With Jacket,” the owner’s second wedding dress. Peggy Jennings, who also designs for first lady Laura Bush, respected the owner’s sidestepping of tradition and exploited the color choice to the fullest.

Miss Stevens shows red as fashion in the exhibit’s Japanese, early 20th-century “Kimono,” a conservative deep-blue long jacket lined with brilliant red silk. Forbidden to design red clothing during the Heian (794-1185) and Edo (1600-1868) periods, clothiers got even by “peeking” out bits of red in sleeve and neck linings.

Other cultures reveled in red, as well. A large Tashkent, Uzbekistan six-circled “Hanging (suzani)” dominates the exhibit’s far end and shimmers with its intricate, white-embroidered stitches. Piled high as wedding bedding, red was a most suitable color for it.

Another use for red, shown in an embroidered “Tunic” possibly from Macedonia, indicates its use as a fertility device and protection against the evil eye. Embroiderers used red around the garments’ openings to prevent evil spirits from entering.

Few of these textiles show activity, but the exhibit’s Coptic (Egyptian), one: Its brilliant red leopard leaping with outstretched legs and arms can still terrify.

A Safavid (Iranian), 16th-century “Textile fragment,” hung at the exhibit’s entry, is significantly gentler. From a love story-poem between “Khusraw” and “Shirin,” it tells how Farhad, Shirin’s unrequited lover and Khusraw’s rival, dies after digging a channel through a mountain to give Shirin milk.

As handsome as they are thoughtful, these textiles delight and instruct. Who would think that weavings could do this?

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