Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


In this presentation I assess the physical changes that have transpired in Lao textiles within a context of tradition and commercialization. Through understanding of the characteristics of both “traditional” and commoditized textiles, I found that multiple changes are transpiring at once. The most important elements of this research are the textiles themselves, with the perception that textiles reveal the context and intention of their makers. Examination and comparison of over 100 Lao textiles from select U.S. museums and private collections and market observations conducted in Laos resulted in the material cultural analysis presented here. Salient aesthetic and symbolic elements of motif, design, and color were primary components of the study, leading to the conclusion I present: as new possibilities are added to previous ones, contemporary Lao textiles reflect wider changes within Lao society.

As elements of art and culture, textiles are visual records of important changes, both in the past and present. Although Lao textiles are currently transforming at an unprecedented rate, it is important to understand that both innovation and modification to existing textile designs continue over time. Transformations in the physical properties of Lao textiles, such as motifs, design, color, and materials, are not particularly recent phenomenon and previous influences are observed today. For example, Indian influence, particularly in the form of Buddhist iconography, can be seen in many textile motifs. The more recent phenomenon of tourism, commercialization, and the development of local and international markets will be placed into a larger art historical framework, taking into consideration motifs and their potential changes over time.