We’ve been recycling and reusing worn-out clothing pretty much since it was invented, but the Japanese turned it into an art form.
An exhibition at the Brunei Gallery in Bloomsbury is showing off a range of fabrics and objects created by recycling, often unexpected, materials to create entirely new clothes to wear.
Ranging from around 200 years ago to modern times, most of the clothes on display superficially look like blue-dyed denim, but they’re made from anything as varied as old clothes to paper to bamboo. These are Boro, a class of Japanese textiles that have been mended or patched together.
The term is derived from Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired. Fashioned from worn clothing and ‘waste’ fabric to create ‘Boro’, the textile pieces have become very popular with collectors in Japan & throughout the world over the last 20 years. These pieces are often marketed as ‘abstract art’ in the Western context. They are in fact an important aspect of Japanese history and culture, showing the resilience and creativity shown by working people living in very harsh environments with very few resources.
Farmers sometimes even cut the pages of ancient account books in order to turn them into woven paper. The ink writing on the paper also remained visible in the finished fabric leaving an interesting speckled pattern. One garment on show includes the image of a railway track on the back, which was added after the reused fragments were woven together, and there’s no explanation for why it was added.
A string vest on display is worth reading the description, as it is a replica being made using techniques that had been largely lost, and the main challenge is that the weave is seamless – literally has no seams — so they’re relearning through experiments to achieve that design.
Overall, it’s worth reading the captions next to each of the items on display to learn what they’re made from, and to sometimes stand back and think “they made that from what?”.
Entry is free and it’s open Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30am–5pm (Thursdays to 8pm).