The Story of Islamic Embroidery
Monday 03 Jun 2013


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This brief required the presentation of 220 Islamic ethnographic textiles in a manner that would entice visitors to look at this medium from a totally new perspective, and overcome the accepted tradition that textile exhibitions rarely attract large audiences. Furthermore, the design should provide an aesthetic museum quality display, within the confines of a narrow 100 m corridor. In addition, it should contain a small auditorium for presentations and lectures as well as areas for educational activities.

From the outset Morris Associates examined numerous configurations and scenarios in order to organise the objects into two distinct categories, examining embroideries from the Nomadic and Urban perspectives – simple and concise. They then subdivided these objects further into areas of significance, adding touches of playfulness within each specific culture, which proved surprisingly diverse. In the Nomadic section they focused upon Costumes, the Horse and the Yurt (nomadic dwelling), examining both the decorative and functional significance; individually and as a group.

In the Urban areas the designers explored the lavishness of the Palace and the more geometric styles of North Africa. There was now had an interesting workable solution, but still an unconventionally long narrow corridor, so Morris Associates devised a sequence of architectural features to disorientate the visitor while controlling the visitor flow path. They enhanced this further by developing carefully positioned openings, ensuring visitors weaved though the space, thereby eliminating the sense of a passageway. A CGI walkthrough can be viewed here

Given the linear axis and width limitation the designers struggled to provide comparative displays, so they devised two additional areas. As an introduction they presented the finest works of both cultures, emphasising styles within the storyline. Later, a transitional space presented direct comparisons of like-for-like objects demonstrating each culture’s unique techniques.

Having determined the object themes within given areas, the designers still required an extra educational “edge” to the display ensuring a new and interactive spirited approach to textiles. This was achieved by introducing two multimedia elements. First a huge projected presentation (6 x 4 m) of historical imagery, object details and regional music. The second, an enormous touch-screen scrolling book, accessed from each side of a table display. As each visitor interacted with the program it projected the same imagery on the adjacent wall; thereby visitors interacting with the objects and each other.

News of this enticing and thought provoking exhibit travelled swiftly and it became a hugely significant feature in the development of the Abu Dhabi cultural district.

Colin Morris Associates