The Indian Sari: Next to the Skin, Close to the Heart

Image: Single Ikat Sari. Silk. Lent by Prema Popkin.

Indiana University Art Museum
Judi and Milt Stewart Hexagon Gallery, Special Exhibitions Gallery, first floor
September 25-December 20, 2015

Opening Reception
Friday, September 25, 6:308:00 p.m.
IU Art Museum, Thomas T. Solley Atrium, first floor

This stunning exhibition of twenty-five saris on loan from Bloomington resident Prema Popkin showcases a sampling of the many types of saris produced for and worn by women from different parts of India. Chosen for their various techniques, patterns, materials, and colors, the saris not only are beautiful, but they also provide insights into India's great diversity of culture, caste, and climate. 

The sari consists of one continuous piece of fabric measuring from five to nine yards long and two to four yards wide. It is divided into three areas of design: the end piece or pallu, which is often elaborately decorated; the other three borders of the fabric; and the body or field. Saris are worn in a myriad of ways (seventy by some counts), depending on region, class, and caste. The fabric is wrapped around the body, pleated in the front, and secured by tucking it into a petticoat. The pallu can be draped in a variety of ways—over the shoulder and down the back, over the shoulder and down the front, draped over the head, and even wrapped between the legs forming pants. A short blouse, choli, is worn to cover the breasts, leaving the midriff bare. 

Saris can be made of domesticated silk, cotton, wild silk, and wool. They can be decorated with block printing, resist dyeing, or embroidery, and they are woven using various techniques including brocade. Although today many saris are factory woven, traditionally they are made by hand on a variety of looms. Whatever the loom, the structure of all sari fabric is based on the interlacing of warp (lengthwise) and weft (crosswise) threads. 

The motifs found on an Indian sari comprise a visual language that can identify caste, class, stage of life, and region. Motifs may also serve to honor or appease the gods or to protect the wearer from adversity. The use of certain patterns may indicate the community to which a girl belongs. Traditionally, different colors convey different meanings. For example, red frequently is used for a bride or recently married girl and a yellow backgroun may indicate that a woman is a new mother, while white saris are most often worn by widows. 

The exhibition is curated by Judy Stubbs, the Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art, and is funded by the Thomas T. Solley Endowed Fund for the Curator of Asian Art and the IU Art Museum's Arc Fund.

Related Programs

Arts Connection
Saturday, October 24, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Thomas T. Solley Atrium, second floor
Special Exhibitions Gallery, first floor

In conjunction with the Indian Sari exhibition, Thomas Robertello, internationally acclaimed flutist and associate professor and harpist Erin Brooker, graduate student in the Jacobs School of Music, will perform Indian ragas for the flute by Sameer Rao and Ravi Shankar. Following the concert, Judy Stubbs, the Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art, will give a short gallery talk. 

One-Hour Exhibition: Indian Miniatures
Friday, November 6, 2015, 3:00-4:00 p.m. 
Visitors should meet in the IU Art Museum's third floor office. No pre-registration is required, but space is limited. Admission will be on a first come—first served basis. 

Judy Stubbs, the museum's Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art, will discuss Indian and Persian miniature paintings. These exquisite paintings give us a window on courtiers, court life, myth and religion. 

Fashion Show: Draped in Light: The Enduring Art of the Indian Sari
Saturday, November 14, 7:00-8:45 p.m. 
Fine Arts, room 015

Please join us for a fashion show of saris co-sponsored and modeled by members of the Indian Student Association. Students will showcase not only traditional saris from their home region, but also introduce contemporary styles and methods of draping. Afterward, join us at the IU Art Museum for light refreshments and an opportunity to see the special exhibition. The Special Exhibition Gallery will be open from 7:45-8:45 p.m. 

Noon Talk: Creativity, Innovation, and the Indian Sari
Tuesday, November 17, 12:15-1:00 p.m. 
Special Exhibitions Gallery

Dr. Pravina Shukla, author of The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India, has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the northeast of India, with a focus on the making, marketing, and selling of saris. She will lead a conversation on creativity, innovation, and individuality as they relate to the Indian sari.