If you search for "barkcloth" on the internet there are two types of fabric under this name - a textured fabric for soft furnishing, popular in the mid-twentieth century, and cloth made from bark. I had never heard of the furnishing fabric, but now I have discovered what it is, I was quite pleased that it was the latter type that was on display at the British Museum.
Their exhibition looks at the use of this textile on the islands of the Pacific, using techniques that most likely date back 5,000 years (or more) up to the present day.
The exhibition is small, and at the very back of the museum, but it is one of their free exhibitions. This also means it was perfectly okay to take photographs allowing me to record the variety of patterns and textures that were on display. I was also pleased to see, at the very beginning of the exhibition, a small piece of barkcloth that could be touched - allowing visitors to experience the softness of what might be perceived as a rather hard textile.
This piece (above) was printed with leaves.
And there were other fabrics like these above, that were printed to look like woven textiles.
There was a great variety of patterns and designs - perfect for anyone looking for interesting sources for their own contemporary work.
Some of the pieces had additional embellishments with fringing and beading as seen in this sample.
As well as garments there were masks, headdresses (as illustrated, above) and body adornments. One designer has even used the material for a very (non traditional) wedding dress.
This exhibition is worth a visit. It is not very big so perhaps something to combine with other areas, or displays such as Indigenous Australia, which finishes on 2nd August, or the new Drawing in Silver and Gold, or the Celtic Art exhibition both opening in September.
The Shifting Patterns exhibition continues at the British Museum until 6 December - in room 91.