Asia in Black and White
Westerners are familiar with the idea of color as symbol. The ancient Greeks regarded white as the color of nobility; today we often associate black with mourning. This exhibition explores black and white not for their symbolic meaning, but for their visual qualities as they engage the eye. In Asia, the wearing of black or white may have more to do with fashion than symbolism. For example, one of the three kimonos worn by Japanese brides during the wedding celebration is white, but this has nothing to do with the traditional white wedding dress of Western practice. Black kimono were very fashionable for both men and women in the 18th and 19th centuries, but were never regarded as mourning dress.
Black and white may also be worn for practical reasons. White is often worn in summer throughout Asia wherever it is very hot; black may also be worn if it is a lightweight cloth. Black and white textiles often provide a high-contrast background for embellishment with bright metallic silver and gold or with brilliantly colored silk embroidery. In some cultures black and white are combined in textiles the way that paper and ink are used in painting. In this gallery are traditional garments from China, Japan, North Yemen, and India that display these features. Standing in contrast to these traditional forms are costume and textiles from contemporary Japanese designers in which black and white stand alone and are employed for their intrinsic graphic qualities.