The exhibition explores the shift from paisley prints from Persian palaces to psychedelic symbolism

Paisley, the teardrop pattern that has decorated everything from Torah scrolls to bandanas, has its moment in “Paisley, a Princely Pattern,” an exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem.

The design-focused exhibition, open since May, oscillates between past and present as it follows the metamorphosis of cashmere from its origins in Iran, Turkey, Europe and the rest of the world.

Originally called boteh Where butathe Persian word for bush or shrub, paisley was also related to cypress in Zoroastrian folk tradition, the ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran.

“It was considered the tree of life,” said the museum’s chief curator, Idit Sharoni, describing the cypress as an evergreen, long-lived tree popular in Persian literature and art.

Sharoni, along with Naama Brosh and Adi Yair, organized the exhibition.

“Paisley, a Princely Pattern” shows examples of these early Persian paisley patterns in tapestries, shawls and fabrics, many from the permanent collection of museum founder Vera Bryce Salomons. The shawls had been kept in the vault of the museum for 40 years and are now on display for the first time.

A set of ‘rimonim’ or scepters for a Torah scroll in the shape of ‘buteh’, the Persian term for paisley, from Afghanistan, 1880, in ‘Paisley, A Princely Pattern’, on display at the Museum of Islamic Art of Jerusalem, running until April 23, 2022. (Courtesy Ardan Bar Hama)

As paisley designs migrated from Iran to Turkey, they entered Jewish communities throughout the Islamic world, where they were engraved and drawn in Judaica and art, including ceremonial kiddush cups in silver, brocaded yarmulkes and robes, as well as marriage contracts, a rabbi’s turban, and the ornate inner lining of a Torah scroll case – all on display in the exhibit.

“These are paisley images that touch the Torah scroll, and it’s not by accident,” Sharoni said. “The Jews considered him special and sacred.”

The pattern eventually spread to Europe, where it became popular in fabrics and designs, in part thanks to forward-thinking figures such as Empress Josephine, the first wife of military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who often used in his clothes.

It was in the forest of Paisley in Scotland, a textile town, that the teardrop shape began to be woven into everyday fabrics, becoming known as today’s paisley pattern. Then, decades later, in the 1960s and 1970s, cashmere became the leitmotif of the psychedelic rock ‘n roll movement.

Curator Adi Yair, fashion designer and weaver, brings these latest pieces of Paisley history to the exhibition, with contemporary art and fashion that showcases the pattern in fabrics as well as artwork .

Paisley-inspired sportswear from Iranian-British fashion designer Paria Farzaneh’s Fall 2021 collection at ‘Paisley, A Princely Pattern’, on display at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem until April 23, 2022. (Courtesy Shai Ben Efraim)

She demonstrates the paisley image in Israeli photographs and paintings, including a calligraphic rug that demonstrates the secret language used by Jewish Iranians and mimics the paisley-decorated rugs once woven in Iran.

There’s also a rock ‘n roll corner, with vibrant purple paisley wallpaper designed by Briton Patrick Moriarty as a tribute to Prince’s ‘Paisley Park’ album.

The wedge shows cashmere dominating the music industry. The Beatles brought paisley back to Britain after a stint in India, while other rock ‘n rollers, including Jimi Hendrix, Israeli Arik Einstein and later Prince, helped spread paisley as a pop culture symbol.

The last part of the exhibition turns into cashmere as a classic, fashionable bohemian print and on the bandana decorated with cashmere – first a symbol for workers, then the flag of disenfranchised people, like rapper Snoop Dogg and rap collective Wu-Clan Tang.

The cashmere embellished bandana, here in pink, courtesy of Fashion & Textile Archives. (Courtesy of Shai Ben Efraim)

Cashmere-decorated outfits by Israeli designers Hana Laszlo and Dorit Bar Or, as well as Iranian-British designer Paria Farzaneh and others, show how cashmere has featured in all kinds of textiles and designs over the past few decades.

“If you ask someone what cashmere is,” Sharoni said, “they can’t always describe it.

“But when you show them, they immediately recognize it.”

“Paisley, a Princely Pattern” will be on display at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem until April 2023.

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