Press Release – The Lao Gift

The Lao gift.
Symbols and patterns of textile exchange in Lao society of 20th century.

From the 14th to the 17th of September, David Sorgato gallery presents a preview of Lao textiles exhibition, during the 11th Sartirana Textile Show, to la Pila in Sartirana (booth 7-8).

The exhibition explores the meaning of the gift as an altruistic gesture through the symbolic act of exchanging decorated textile. It is in connecting and in creating strong bonds with others that, the human being can build their own identity. The gift promotes human relations against self-interest.

This habit marks out the culture and the ethnicities of Laos during the first half of the 20th century. They remained grounded on the archaic, symbolic and magic culture of the ancestors, free from the European influence.
The Lao woven vertical panels were sewed by and given only to the women. People embroidered on either white, red and indigo-blue backgrounds symbolic and magic patterns in silk, cotton and rayon with pre- Hinduism and pre- Buddhism meanings, which were meant both to protect from misfortunes and supernatural events, and to wish good fortune.

The woven symbols could represent very different types of picture: animals and vegetables, fantastic and demi godly or anthropomorphic shapes referred to mythic ancestors, real or fantastic stars. Some examples can be the snake/dragon that symbolised the womanliness, the lion with an elephant trunk that was the quietness and the prestige of the king, the monkey that was the boundary between the world of the living and the hereafter.
The variety of pattern is almost unlimited it includes the sun, the moon, the stars, the lanterns, the candles, the keys, the diamonds, the roofs, the fringes and the swastikas.
Many cloths have an end of the panel dyed in a contrasting shade such as red, pink, ivory or orange.

The occasions for the homage in Lao society were many. “Phaa Tuum” were textile that mothers gave to their pregnant daughter, the “Phaa Kang” were curtains used as doors to protect the house, the “Phaa Koei” were gift of the daughter-in-law to their parents-in-law, a sort of tribute for their death; the “Phaa Tuun Luuk” were blankets, curtains, dividers, bum bags given as gifts among the tribe’s members.

Moreover, different kinds of textiles were employed to distinguish the clothes of each tribe of Laos. The ethnic groups belonged to two different creeds related to Buddhism and Shamanism. The graphic system of the clothes could identify the religious belief and the original tribe of each person. The Buddhist dresses were garnished with patterns that represented real objects such as flowers, plants and animals, while the Shamanic had conceptual decorations depicting the life after death. The Buddhist aesthetic was symmetrical, while the shamanic was asymmetrical. The colour and the type of raw material used were a sign of the wealth and traditions of the ethnic group.

The Lao fabrics always have a great elegance and a remarkable balance of form and colours. Moreover, they indicate a remarkable proof of the ability and the creativity of the women of Laos, who handed down from mother to daughter the ancient and precious knowledge of composing the complicated decorations of Phaa Koei.
The tragic historical events of the last century and the Vietnamese War has scattered this ancient tradition for ever and has dissipated an original and unique cultural heritage.

At the end of Sartirana Textile Show, the exhibition “The Lao gift” will be exposed in David Sorgato Milanese gallery in via Sant’Orsola 13, Milan and enriched with other charming items of Laos ethnic group and a collection of Buddhas from Indochina.