Friday, September 23, 2016

Rosemary Crill Presents Curating the Fabric of India

Rosemary Crill speaking at the Maiwa School of Textiles

In Victorian England, during the heady summer of 1851, an estimated six-million people visited the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations” (better known as the Great Exhibition) under the vitreous rooftops of the Crystal Palace, during the six months of it tenure in Hyde Park. During this time it realized a profit of almost two-hundred thousand pounds, enough to purchase 96 acres of land in South Kensington and to fund the construction of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum. This fund also gave birth to the Museum of History and Science, The Royal Colleges of Art, and Music and the Royal Albert Hall.

Today the V&A’s holds the greatest collection of Indian Textiles in the world. As Director Martin Roth pointed out in his introductory notes to The Fabric of India, it is surprising, therefore, that there had never been a major exhibition of them, nor had there been a comprehensive volume such as The Fabric of India.

Now, such an undertaking is never the work of one person. Nevertheless, there is one person who did have a pivotal role to play in bringing these textiles to public view and championing the importance of such an exhibition. That person is Rosemary Crill. She has recently retired from her position as Senior Curator, Asian Department, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Rosemary is a paradigm of modesty and understatement. A favourite trick of hers, which she uses to field a question about textiles, is to speak as if you were giving her the answer. “I don’t know ... South East India isn’t it? Northern Orissa perhaps? What do you think? An ikat from say ... well ... maybe early twentieth century judging by the dyes and colours ... does that seem right?”

Our mutual friend, textile collector and author, John Gillow once described her in the following words: She’s incredibly sharp. She knows absolutely everything, but she’ll act like she doesn’t know any of it.”  This is not false modesty, rather it belies her deep conviction that what matters most is not her erudition, but the object itself.

Rosemary is a gifted curator, by which I mean she is able to organize objects into collections that make intuitive sense. She then augments this curatorial ability with deceptively simple prose.  And so she uses her subtle gifts to give a voice to the object. We are made to feel that the textiles of history are speaking directly to us.


From the introduction to Rosemary Crill's lecture by Tim McLaughlin.

See also Maiwa's review of the Fabric of India Exhibition and Tim McLaughlin's review of the Fabric of India Book (some of which is repeated in this introduction).

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