New exhibition brings together Czech and Japanese blue-dyeing tradition

A new exhibition focusing on the indigo blue-dyeing tradition in the Czech Republic and Japan is currently underway at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague. Called Fashion in Blue, it presents the genesis of the blueprint technology in the East and West and examines how it is used in contemporary fashion and art.

The exhibition dedicated to the indigo blue-dyeing tradition in the Czech lands and Japan was initiated by Japanese curator Setsuko Shibata. It was originally supposed to take place last spring to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Czech-Japanese diplomatic relations, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Markéta Vinglerová, curator of the textile collection at the Museum of Decorative Arts says that when preparing the exhibition, they started by exploring what the Czech and Japanese blueprint techniques have in common:

“When we started to study the techniques in greater detail, we discovered that they are actually quite different. To be more precise, we only have one technique here in the Czech Republic, the blueprint, while in Japan, there are more of them and they are much more intricate.

“Also, blueprint came to this region from the Far East, so we cannot really say that it originated here. So the one thing they really do have in common is the blue colour, the indigo.”

Photo: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague

Another thing the two traditions have in common, says Mrs. Vinglerová, is the fact that they have almost disappeared as a result of industrialization and the rise of the fast fashion industry.

The Czech blue-dyeing tradition, which is part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, dates to the 18th century and enjoyed its heyday during the 19th century.

Today there are only two family-run workshops in South Moravia that keep the tradition alive but in recent years, it has seen something of a revival, says Mrs Vinglerová.

“A lot of young designers, who are interested in sustainability and local production, are returning to old craft traditions, and blue-printing is one of them. That's why we also present the work of a younger generation of designers who have used blueprint, either in a single collection or repeatedly. It's a kind of challenge that has attracted them.”

As a counterpart to the local exhibits, which also include Moravian folk costumes and contemporary blueprint fabrics, the exhibition showcases a diverse selection of Japanese textiles made with the blue-dyeing technology:

“Visitors can see yukatas, which are lighter, summer garments, as well as traditional kimonos. There are also hanging textiles and examples of Japanese printing patterns.

“So I would say it is a confrontational exhibition, which definitely doesn’t want to bring one of the two traditions to the fore. To the contrary, it wants to show how exquisite both of them are.”

The exhibition Fashion in Blue. Indigo in Japanese and Czech Textile Then and Now will be on display at the Museum of Decorative Arts until February 20.