The Metallic Kani Goes to the MET

The Metallic Kani Goes to the MET

A ‘contemporised’ version of the historic kani shawl by Kashmir Loom is on display at the MET Museum’s Heirloom Project Bazaar starting today 

The two words ‘metallic’ and ‘kani’ when placed together open an immediate dialogue between the traditional and contemporary. Where the complex sustenance of handmade textiles is impossible without modernisation. Especially the Kashmiri kani which in its traditional form did not include the use of metallic threads or zari blended yarn. Now, made by the Delhi-based Kashmir Loom, these kanis created on wooden sticks or bobbins were handwoven with zari yarn instead of just multi-coloured threads. This contemporary version finds pride of place at the Heirloom Project Bazaar at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) starting today.


The Bazaar is a four-day trunk show, an extension of the MET’s ongoing Heirloom Project, where some creators associated with the project have been invited to physically display their wares at the MET store. Led by American product designer Madeline Weinrib, The Heirloom Project is an ongoing celebration of the 10th anniversary of the museum’s reimagined Islamic wing to commemorate its Islamic art collection. It includes artisanal brands from different parts of the world which honour historic design principles and techniques for the continuity of craftsmanship while being meaningful as contemporary products. Good Earth crockery from India, designed by its creative director and founder Anita Lal is among them. At the bazaar, however, the only other Indian brands currently showing besides Kashmir Loom are jewellery by Hanut Singh and Munnu The Gem Palace.


(Left to Right) Founded by textile expert Jenny Housego and Asaf Ali with his brothers, Kashmir Loom has an atelier in Srinagar.
Led by American product designer Madeline Weinrib, The Heirloom Project is an ongoing celebration of the 10th anniversary of the museum’s reimagined Islamic wing to commemorate its Islamic art collection.

Founded by textile expert Jenny Housego and Asaf Ali with his brothers, Kashmir Loom has an atelier in Srinagar, where the metallic pashmina shawls were designed and woven with the design guidance of Housego. It was in the brand’s Srinagar studio, in fact, where this writer chanced on more than 20 exquisite metallic kanis, each superior in weaving intricacy and textile sophistication to its previous iteration. Unfurled proudly by Asaf Ali as he explained the execution, creation and weaving journey of these shawls, he said their team utilised the lull of the COVID-19 lockdowns to collaborate with their artisans. “Traditional pieces are beautiful but textiles will mean little if they are not modernised for new and diverse consumers across the world,” said Ali, taking his small audience through the stack of shawl wonders packed in layers of paper and white muslin covers.

As a deep Prussian blue gave way to a nude-taupe shawl with gold-silver woven motifs, a deep maroon-red shawl competed with a black drape sewn with red and green flowers, the pashmina’s many new possibilities spoke up. For this writer, a natural coloured pashmina kani shawl with enlarged motifs on the two side borders of the famous Mughal poppy in gold with each leaf and flower outlined as if by a delicate black marker pen (also woven) was poetry itself. A piece of handwoven art for the wall at home, a museum, as much as a wearable, living textile. Also a reminder yet again on why the designer-artisan disparity in skills and credits must be re-examined as contemporarisation becomes the future of craft culture.


Parisa Butidar metallic kani shawl.
Gourab Ganguli

For the Heirloom Project Bazaar, each shawl took more than eight months to weave, says Ali. Outside the current bazaar, the studio’s products for the MET store include an Iznik-inspired merino wool stole with chainstitch embroidery and a merino wool kaftan with chainsitch embroidery (also available on the MET’s digital store).

“I define a modern product as something that can be used in modern life. A modern product also has global appeal so it challenges design on a local scale,” says Madeline Weinrib on email from New York where she is hosting the Bazaar. “The Kashmir Loom shawl made in collaboration with the MET store is a modern interpretation because it uses a traditional motif but with a change in scale and colour as well as a more minimal all over pattern,” she adds.


Riah Palledar metallic kani shawl.
Gourab Ganguli

Some will argue that modernisation is as much a labyrinth (and as rich) as the history of a textile or a craft which has in its blood or yarn, entire cultures, sociological transition points, dynastic movements, wars and politics. That’s why given that the Heirloom Project is in sync with the MET’s reimagined Islamic Galleries—it is critical to revisit what a piece of ‘Islamic’ art or textile means to a modern consumer. What is it that connects a Kani shawl from Kashmir for instance to an Islamic art exhibition in New York?

“I would urge looking at Islamic art or textiles from a non-geographical prism and instead use a cultural context,” says David Abraham, creative director of Abraham and Thakore, who writes the David in the Details column for this platform. Abraham explains that Islamic art developments would include cultural and artistic influences from Central Asia right up to Spain where Islamic architecture is visible even today. Mughal India, Bangladesh to some extent, Afghanistan, the Turkish and Ottoman empires, the entire Silk Route from the 15th-17th century would then be the expanse. In terms of design, jaalis, floral patterns, architectural motifs would dominate, but not anthropomorphic figures, human faces or animals. Most interestingly, “concepts of mathematics and strong knowledge of geometry defined Islamic art and design,” reminds Abraham. This brings us back full circle to Kashmir’s Kani shawl where floral patterns are woven with mathematical skill and a balance of proportions. An heirloom of the world.


To explore the MET’s Heirloom Project, see this 

The bazaar will be on display and sale till May 9 at the MET in New York. 

For metallic kanis (price on request) contact Kashmir Loom through its website or Instagram. 

Banner: Kashmir Loom; photo: Gourab Ganguli