Tessuti d’Arte

THE KALAGA TAPESTRY: Birman culture’s precious textile curtain

Italiano (Italian)

Kalaga tapestry , XX sec, private collection.  © Festina Lente Studio


The word KALAGA relates to an oriental textile item defined as tapestries and used as wall decorations. Kalaga means “curtain” in the Burmese language; it identifies heavily embroidered appliqué tapestry sewn with a technique called shwe gyi do.

Kalaga tapestry from Birmania, woven around 1950.

Originally used to decorate luxurious royal palaces, Kalagas first appeared in the Royal Court of Mandalay with decorative designs closely resembling wall paintings of pagodas and sumptuous buildings of the time. Quickly gaining popularity, this particular tapestry was also used to create room screens, curtains and funeral drapes.

Kalaga tapestry detail, XX sec, private collection.  © Festina Lente Studio

Kalagas are generally linen, silk, cotton and/or velvet background fabrics embellished with sequins, embroidery, beads, coloured stones, tiny pearls, coral, braids and metal threads.

Kalaga Tapestry, detail, XX sec, private collection.  © Festina Lente Studio

From a technical point of view, kalagas’ typical elaborate scenes are obtained employing a unique weaving process in which the base fabric is laid out on a loom. Then, cotton padding is added to the support to allow depth to the characters.
Depending on the design complexity, the size of the tapestry and the client’s budget, the fabrics are embellished with decorative elements such as sequins, pearls, metallic threads, etc…

Kalaga Tapestry, detail, XX sec, private collection.  © Festina Lente Studio

The scenes usually portray stories from ancient Sanskrit legends, the ten lives of Buddha and mythological events narrated in the old Hindu epic poem of Ramayana. In addition, Buddha representations vary in style and take on distinctive characteristics depending on the region of Burma in which they are found; for example, the Mandalay area style (developed at the end of the 19th century) is defined by the presence of an ovoid Buddha with realistic features such as the natural curvature of the eyebrows, smaller ears and draped robes.
The Kalagas, like the decorations in the impressive Burmese temples, are flooded with colourful and shiny details, translated into textile art through the embroidery artifices with metallic threads and applications.

Kalaga Tapestry, detail, XX sec, private collection.  © Festina Lente Studio

Elisa Monfasani

English version Fin dai primi anni mostra una certa propensione per il campo dell’arte, diplomandosi in Arti Figurative al Liceo Artistico “Bruno Cassinari” di Piacenza. La passione per l’arte tessile antica e contemporanea derivano dalla sua formazione come Restauratore di Materiali e Manufatti Tessili e in Pelle. In parallelo all’attività del restauro, da settembre 2020, è Amministratore ed Editor Social Media del profilo “Festina Lente Studio”, dove insieme alla collega Emanuela Fistos, si occupa di divulgare la conoscenza dell’arte tessile. Di recente, è entrata a far parte della redazione del sito web “Storie Parallele”, nato nel 2019 come strumento didattico e divulgativo della storia e dell’archeologia. La sua mission in ArteMorbida è quella di portare la “matericità” degli oggetti d’arte a contatto con il lettore; l’osservazione del “micro”, degli aspetti merceologici dei manufatti tessili, sono, infatti, fondamentali per accede al “macro”, alla comprensione dell’opera d’arte nella sua totalità.