phulkari bagh

phulkari bagh



8′-2″ x 4′-2″   (2.5m x 127cm)
India/Pakistan, Punjab Province; c. early 1900’s
Khadi Cotton (homespun, handwoven); Silk Embroidery (untwisted floss), vegetable dyed base fabric.
condition: good-discolorations consistent with age and use.

An unusually wide four panel Phulkari, of reticent and profound composition. A central field that could be considered a ‘void’, but certainly not empty. Surrounding borders of multicolored diamonds and triangular forms. Note subtle thread color changes within the central field. Here is magic.

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From a rare and extensive collection of Phulkari Shawls from the Punjab region of India/Pakistan, dating from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. Fashioned from joined panels of ‘Khaddar’ (home-spun, hand-woven and vegetable dyed cotton cloth produced locally), a Phulkari ground fabric was embellished with silk floss embroidery employing a counted darning stitch and worked entirely from the reverse of the fabric. When making geometrical patterns, Phulkari were not stitched in one direction but horizontal and vertical stitches were combined leaving long floats on the front to show off as much reflected light and color effects as possible. The amount of work is mind boggling. Phulkari (literally “flower-work”) designs range from striking geometric patterns to charming folk narratives. In every work ‘mistakes’ were often intentionally introduced as a show of humility by the artisans who believed only God could produce perfection.

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“The rich agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana are famous for the Phulkari (flower work) shawls… formed the traditional costume of rural women of this region.  It was a costume both spectacular and eminently practical.  Phulkari’s were made for everyday wear.  Usually the border and field of the shawl were not so densely embroidered, with much of the ground cloth exposed. For ceremonial occasions, however, a special kind of Phulkari known as a Bagh (garden) was made, in which the whole of the ground was covered with embroidery, so that the base cloth was not visible at all.  On the birth of a baby, the grandmother, after a ceremony of prayers and distribution of sweets to the baby’s aunts, would start to embroider a Bagh.  It would take several years to complete and was embroidered with special care to be used later at the grandchild’s wedding, after which it would be kept as a family treasure.”

From “Traditional Indian Textiles” by John Gillow and Nicholas Barnard (Thames and Hudson)

There was a time when the highest qualities of these pieces were available, and that time is no more. THIS’ collection offers a rare opportunity for textile connoisseurs to obtain insight into the immense variety and qualities of Phulkari that were crafted and are no longer being produced.  The finer Phulkari’s are occasionally offered for auction at Christies and Sotheby’s.  Galleries too.

Philadelphia Museum 2017

Jack Shainman Gallery 2006