b. sakata garo

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June 20, 2004
P.S. Around the Arts:

UCD professor pieces together the fabrics of varied cultures
By Patricia Beach Smith, Sacramento Bee

"Uzbek III" by Victoria Z. Rivers is representative of ancient Central Asian society with its fragments of antique ikat silk, oil pastels and mirrors.
Victoria Z. Rivers

Artist Victoria Z. Rivers has a soft spot for old cloth.

"I know what these textiles were in their former lives," Rivers said of the fragments of fabrics she cherishes from exotic parts of the world. She incorporated many examples in her 43-piece, one-woman art show, "Restitution and Other Tales," on exhibit at the b. sakata garo gallery through July 3.

In their former lives, Rivers said, the fragments were parts of garments such as saris from India and skirts from Sumatra. The textiles might also have been wrappings for important gifts or decorations for bridal beds and ceremonies.

"Restitution No. 2" uses a long, narrow, red piece of cloth from Sumatra that was perhaps part of a bridal bed or was draped on a dais where a bride and bridegroom would have greeted guests. It is a very old flannel trade cloth distributed by the Dutch and British and has gold, silver and mirror decoration. The metal represents the male, the soft cloth the female; it is the perfect expression in cloth for a wedding.

"I know the importance such textiles played in the lives of the people who made them and owned them," Rivers said. "They fell out of respect because they got old or got moth holes, tears, etc."

Her show, she said, is an attempt to pay respect and homage to the great textile traditions in the world.

"It's a way to put the textiles back into use - a kind of recycling. And it's a way for me to make use of all the little bits and pieces of cloth that I have collected," said Rivers, who has collected historic fabrics for decades.

Many of her fragments emerged from recently created nations, such as Uzbekistan.

"Textiles from these new republics started coming out that we hadn't seen before," Rivers said. "People were selling them to rebuild their lives. That's often what happens. The cloth is cut up and turned into souvenirs. ... That's how the textiles became fragmented and removed from their original meaning.

"I love their sad, poignant beauty, so I try to restore them to make them whole again. But they can never be what they were before. That's why I called the show 'Restitution.' "

Rivers' show glitters, glows and evokes history and purpose.

"The majority of the artwork in the show was done in the last 18 months," Rivers said, "so this is really a major explosion of creative ideas I have been gestating for a long time. I wasn't working at my art too much while I was doing research, traveling and writing my book."

Her book, "The Shining Cloth," is a major exploration of the history of textiles that glitter and shine. It was published by Thames & Hudson in 1999.

Rivers also has been teaching textile history and design since 1980 as a professor in the design department of the University of California, Davis.

Last year, she was invited to participate in the U.S. State Department's Visiting Artist program. For the program, she created art that is still on exhibit in the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana, and she also went to Ghana to teach.

"The Ghana experience inspired a lot of the pieces in this show," Rivers said. "When I went there to teach, in November, I had to develop some hands-on projects for the students that had to bring into play things they could relate to from their own textile traditions. That's where the gold leaf comes from in my show."

Four or five of the older pieces were inspired by her travels in India and Southeast Asia while doing research for her book. Rivers will be on the road again in November - this time she'll be going to Beijing, where she'll have a one-person show and also teach at the Central Academy of Art.

With any show, she said, it's good to see "all your work up in one place. Because then you can see the connections. With this show, I began to see the common threads that run through all my work."