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Jerusalem: The Evolution of Paisley, from Persian Palaces to Psychedelic Symbols

Paisley, the teardrop-shaped pattern that has adorned everything from Torah scrolls to bandanas, is featured in the ‘Paisley, A Princely Pattern’ exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art. of Jerusalem.

This design-focused exhibition, open to the public since May, weaves a link between past and present by following the evolution of the paisley, or cashmere, pattern from its origins in Iran, Turkey, Europe and the rest of the world.

Originally called botehthe Persian word for bouquet of flowers, paisley was also related to cypress in Zoroastrian folk tradition, the ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran.

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

Sharoni, Naama Brosh and Adi Yair all curated the exhibition.

“Paisley, a Princely Pattern” highlights 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 have been kept in the museum’s vault for 40 years and are 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 cashmere, from Afghanistan, dating from 1880, at the ‘Paisley, a Princely Pattern’ exhibition, at the Museum of Islamic art in Jerusalem. (Courtesy Ardan Bar Hama)

The paisley pattern traveled from Iran to Turkey and became part of Jewish communities in the Islamic world, where it was carved and drawn on art and Judaism-related objects, including drinking glasses. kiddush in silver, kippot and brocaded robes, as well as marriage contracts, a rabbi’s turban, and the inner lining adorned with a Torah scroll, all featured in the exhibit.

“The paisley pattern adorning the Torah scroll is no accident,” Sharoni said. “The Jews considered it special and sacred. »

The pattern eventually spread to Europe, where it became popular in textiles and design, thanks in particular to fashionable figures such as Empress Josephine, first wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who often included it in his wardrobe.

It was in the forest of Paisley, a town of weavers in Scotland, that the teardrop shape began to be woven into everyday fabrics, becoming today’s paisley pattern. Then, decades later, in the 1960s and 1970s, the paisley pattern became the symbol of psychedelic rock.

Curator Adi Yair, fashion designer and weaver, brings these elements of paisley history to the exhibit. Through contemporary art and fashion, she presents the pattern on fabrics and works of art.

Paisley-inspired sportswear from the fall 2021 collection of Iranian-British fashion designer Paria Farzaneh in the exhibition ‘Paisley, a princely pattern’, presented at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem. (Courtesy Shai Ben Efraim)

She exhibits the paisley image in Israeli photographs and paintings, including a calligraphic rug that attests to the secret language used by Iranian Jews and mimics paisley-decorated rugs once woven in Iran.

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

This part of the exhibition shows that paisley is predominant in the music industry. The Beatles brought the paisley back to Britain with them after a stint in India, while other rockers, including Jimi Hendrix, Israeli Arik Einstein and later Prince, helped make the paisley motif a symbol. of pop culture.

The last part of the exhibition is devoted to the paisley pattern as a classic bohemian print, in fashion in general and on the bandana decorated with paisley pattern in particular. It was first a symbol of the workers, then the flag of the underprivileged, before being taken up by rapper Snoop Dogg and the rap collective Wu-Tang Clan.

The bandana decorated with paisley patterns, here in pink, courtesy of Archives de la mode et du textile. (Credit: Courtesy Shai Ben Efraim)

The paisley-embellished outfits of Israeli designers Hana Laszlo and Dorit Bar Or, as well as Iranian-British designer Paria Farzaneh among others, show that the pattern has been exploited on all kinds of textiles and designs over the past decades.

“If you ask someone what paisley is,” says Sharoni, “they probably won’t be able to describe it to you. »

“But if you show them, they will recognize it immediately. »

“Paisley, a princely motif”, open to the public at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem until April 2023.

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