Fabric of India

The V&A’s Fabric of India exhibition, central to the London museum’s India Festival, features over 200 objects including a spectacular 18th century tent that once belonged to Tipu Sultan. To highlight the incredible craftsmanship that the collection demonstrates, LED spotlights from Precision’s Pico family were chosen by independent lighting designers Studio ZNA to illuminate this gorgeous collection of antique textiles and garments, including a completely bespoke chandelier for Tipu’s Tent.

The exhibition, the first major European exhibition to explore the 6,000-year narrative of India’s hand-crafted fabrics, see many of the V&A’s collection from South Asia go on public exhibit for the first time, in addition to a number of items loaned to the museum from international lenders. Pieces dating as early as the 3rd century are presented alongside works from contemporary designers.

Fabric of India informs visitors of how the handmade textiles from the country have been a celebration of courtly wealth, as well as a sacred accompaniment to sacrosanct worship. The inclusion of more recent pieces demonstrate how the Indian textile craft survived emergence of industrialisation, and united a fracture country as a symbol of power and protest. Alongside antique fabrics, the inclusion of 21st century works demonstrate the new relevance handmade textiles have to an emerging economy, and illustrate the creativity that is exciting and influence fashion, art and design.

Studio ZNA, independent lighting designers applauded for their work within the museum and gallery sector, were entrusted with lighting the textiles within the exhibition, which occupies more than two of the V&’s main exhibition spaces.  

Studio ZNA’s brief was to keep the light levels low. “Due to the textile content within the exhibition, we had to keep to 50 lux or below,” explained Carolina Sterzi, lighting designer at Studio ZNA. Further challenges including ensuring that the lighting scheme was delivered in a way which both addressed the museum’s limited budget, as well as the V&A’s commitment to environmental concerns, which required the practice to reuse as much existing stock equipment as possible.

“The lighting approach was really simple,” described Sterzi. “We wanted to use the existing track lighting elements as much as possible in lighting the setwork and the large open display. Further local lighting was added for the display cases to avoid intrusive reflections that would compromise the visitor experience”.

Over 30 Pico Surface LED spotlights from Precision were specified for the additional local lighting elements on the mannequin displays within the cases. Key to the specification was the low energy consumption, with the luminaires consuming just 1.6W, whilst the small size of the fittings removed any potential intrusion on the display of the textiles.

Beam control was also critical, according to Stezi: “The Pico spotlights were particularly helpful in controlling the light on the fabrics.

“The flexibility of the fitting, in addition to the option of different beam angles available meant that it was easy for us to direct light that allowed each object to shine while still complying with the targeted low light levels.”

Pico Surface, a discreet spotlight based on a minimalist aesthetic and small footprint provided versatility through the lockable constant torque tilt mechanism and low friction bearing rotation, also lockable. These advanced features allowed Studio ZNA to precisely aim each luminaire, confident that the focus of the beam would remain consistent.

Close collaboration with Gitta Gschwendtner, the architect for the exhibition, was fundamental for Studio ZNA in order to achieve a seamlessly integrated lighting scenario that would appear 'natural' and attention to detail during the construction phase was key. Nowhere was this more key than for planning the lighting of one of the highlights of the exhibition, the massive 8m diameter canopy of Tipu’s Tent, a tent owned by the 18th-century Indian ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan.

Displaying this spectacular fabric canopy and walls was a key challenge for the exhibition team. While the canopy still has all of the original guy ropes, these were not used to pitch the tent, due to the inappropriateness of putting this antique fabric under tension, as well as being a potential trip hazard in the open exhibition space.

Accordingly, it was determined that a supportive mounting system was to be developed, that both provided visitors the exhibition with an opportunity to see as much of the canopy as possible as well as support the more fragile cotton areas of the canopy.

ZNA were invite to provide feedback on how the lighting could be integrated into this mounting system so that the canopy and walls could be lit to best effect, while also offering the minimum intrusion, as display of the voluminous tent display was tailored so that visitors could best appreciate its scale.

For the periphery of the tent, diffused background blue light creates the impression of the tent being pitched in the daylight of an open air space.

Studio ZNA worked with Precision to develop a completely bespoke chandelier based on the lighting manufacturer’s low-voltage Basis Track system to light the interior of the canopy and the bamboo supported tent walls.

To ensure that the chandelier would not be too intrusive, it was produced to an extremely tight 0.5m radius, the tight curvature of the track and prototype assembly was carried out at Precision’s London factory facilities. 18 Basis Track variants of the Pico spotlight were fitted to the chandelier to provide the low-level lighting required for lighting the tent’s interior.

In what is a ground-breaking exhibition that celebrates Indian textile design, Studio ZNA have produced a design scenario that not only meets the brief in regards to economical and environmental commitments, but also in highlighting the incredible story of India’s handmade fabrics, and the role that these textiles have played in the emergence of a nation.


The flexibility of the Pico Surface, in addition to the option of different beam angles available meant that it was easy for us to direct light that allowed each object to shine while still complying with the targeted low light levels.
Carolina Sterzi, Lighting Designer at Studio ZNA

Lighting Designer

Studio ZNA


London, United Kingdom