Layers of Influence: weaving cultures together

Asanta adrinka cloth from Ghana.| Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kramer.

Asanta adrinka cloth from Ghana.| Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kramer.

Anthropology professor and curator Jennifer Kramer kicked off the Layers of Influence exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC on Nov. 17, 2016. The textile exhibition displays cloths from various cultures – Tibetan robes to Indian saris – and runs until Apr. 9, 2017.

“There’s a combination of pure, aesthetic appreciation,” Kramer says. “You can go in and just be wrapped in textiles and have a very emotional and bodied experience, but at the same time, there is contextual information.”

Kramer has been a curator at the MOA since 2003 and has curated six exhibitions, with Layers of Influence her second major one. She says this display is not a typical history museum or an art gallery display. Rather, the MOA likes to blur the lines between art and anthropology.

A lived community

Both the contextual information and the aesthetic of the exhibition showcase unique heritages, or what Kramer and the MOA like to call “cultural beginnings.” In their own personal collection, the MOA houses
over 6000 textiles of cultural beginnings, though only 134 pieces were used in the exhibition. Amongst the 134 is a First Nations Sister blanket replicated from an ancestral Salish robe made using woolly dog hair, mountain goat wool and cedar bark. Kramer says this was a must-have since her research includes First Nations people.

Kramer says the exhibition is visually appealing and more than simple cloths hanging on a wall. With the use of six low primrose petal-shaped platforms, the cloths hang from the ceiling in intricate ways, allowing visitors to weave in between them.

“We wanted more of a lived, moving connection to display community,” Kramer says.

Visitors are offered a multi-sensorial experience and are able to see the cloths from all angles; Kramer hopes exhibit goers will become embodied within it as if they were wearing the cultural garments. She says this style of presentation shows how the cloths – including the likes of Thailand pha sin, Tibetan chuba, Punjabi phulkari, and Musqueam woven blankets – interact and how cultures borrow styles from one another, hence the title Layers of Influence.

What clothing does

Though most of the textiles within the exhibition are dated cultural garments, Kramer says even modern-day wear is symbolic. She outlines the schematics of what clothing does with the four Ps: pride, prestige, power and protection.

Kramer says style of dress is reflective of culture and identity, and the material, be it a robe made of fine silks or a garment woven with gold thread, reflects prestige. The combination of pride and prestige reflects power, and the last schematic of what clothing does is provide protection. Clothing keeps a person warm from the elements, but also brings community and heritage together as one.

“In the Musqueam tribe, if you just lost a loved one, your family or extended community would wrap you in a blanket,” Kramer says. “Yes, it gives you physical warmth, but it also says ‘we’re going to protect you in this difficult time.’”

Kramer believes the combination of all four Ps explains the importance of cloth as a symbol of the self, community and heritage that starts with the weaver.

“Weavers are doing this metaphor – weaving your past into your present and connecting you to the future.”


For more information on the exhibition, please visit