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Arts & Culture

NUNO exhibit at Japanese Friendship Garden reveals language of textiles

Beth Accomando / KPBS
A Dec. 23, 2021, photo of the textiles on display at the NUNO: The Language of Textiles exhibit at the Japanese Friendship Garden's Inamori Pavilion through Feb 27.

See fabrics where "nature and tradition are woven with technology."

A new exhibit called NUNO: The Language of Textiles at the Japanese Friendship Garden's Inamori Pavilion in Balboa Park may inspire you to look at fabric in a whole new way.

NUNO exhibit teaches the language of textiles

The Japanese Friendship Garden offers a lovely retreat from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Walking back through the serene garden and koi pools you will eventually end at the Inamori Pavilion where gently cascading water will provide the perfect soundscape for a visit to the new NUNO: The Language of Textiles exhibit.

Beth Accomando
A photo of the textile on display at "NUNO: The Language of Textiles," which lets visitors learn about different textile techniques and see the results up close, Dec. 23, 2021.

As the wind blows through the pavilion, the elegant, draped fabrics gently billow like ghostly forms. The fabrics represent a showcase of designs from NUNO, a Japanese company run by Reiko Sudo that combines the old and the new.

NUNO, which is Japanese for fabric (布), started in 1984 and has, according to its website, "worked with weavers and dyers in Japan, combining old practices with new technologies to create textiles that are original, distinctive, and fresh." It uses independent spinners, dyers and mills in villages throughout Japan to create what it describes as textiles where “nature and tradition are woven with technology.”

Chad Patton, managing director of Material Things, the international distributor of NUNO, said the exhibit shows the evolution of textile design.

"And it's NUNO's evolution," he said. "But it's also just how textile design, on a whole has changed over the last 30 years. And I think NUNO has been a driving force in those changes."


Those changes not only involve creating new technologies to make fabrics incorporating paper, feathers, or tape, but also working to reduce industrial waste and keep certain textile-making traditions alive.

"There are only two silk weaving towns left in Japan, and they're trying to revitalize the silk industry in Japan. So they asked Reiko Sudo to go to the factory and come up with some way of revitalizing it," Patton said. "Well, she went, and they expected her to come up with new designs. But instead, she looked over in the corner of the factory and there was this big pile of kind of dirty white stuff. And she said, 'What's that?' And he said, 'That's kibiso, the outside of the silk, the very outside layer of the silk cocoon. And it has short fibers, too short to spin.' So it was basically thrown away. And she said, 'Why don't we spin this?' And they said, 'That's impossible.' So she got some of the old women in the village who retired from the silk weaving mills to hand spin it at home."


You can now see examples of how that fiber is worked into textiles.

Visitors can see up close the dramatic results of different techniques of textile production. You can even get a close-up view of the fabric used for the spectacular kimono worn by the Geisha in the U.S. "Ghost in the Shell" movie.

Rila Fukushima plays Geisha in "Ghost in the Shell" from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures (2017). NUNO provided the fabric used for the kimono and a sample of that fabric is on display in NUNO: The Language of Textiles" at the Japanese Friendship Garden through Feb. 27.

Since fabric serves a very functional purpose you may not think of it as art but for Patton, the creative process begins with designing the fabric and continues with the buyer.

"How they use the fabric is part of the creative process," he said. "The creative process isn't ended until the fabric is used. And that's NUNO's philosophy. I personally think that design is art, but with design, you're thinking about purpose. With art in its purest form, you're not thinking about purpose, and that's the difference."

NUNO: The Language of Textiles will impress you with the entire process of creating fabric. The exhibit runs through Feb. 27 at the Japanese Friendship Garden’s Inamori Pavilion.