Thursday, 19 November 2015

Kongo: Power and Majesty–the blog

Some especially interesting comments on textile use by the eminent historian Phyllis M.Martin.


“Kristen Windmuller-Luna: In your essay in the exhibition catalogue, you write extensively about cloth's role in the Loango economy. How did that system function?

Phyllis M. Martin: We have to consider that cloth is a way of storing value. Cloth was also an essential ingredient in society and culture. It was not just a piece of fabric with wonderful weaving and designs; it was much more than that. When the Dutch arrived around 1600, they talk about how the king—the Maloango—had warehouses and storehouses bursting with cloths, copper, and ivory.

And so you ask, "Why cloth?" Cloth has many advantages, and we can think of it functioning like a currency; a currency needs to be portable, it needs to be durable, and preferably it needs to be locally produced. The region was described in one late sixteenth-century source as "the land of palms," which was important because raffia palm trees provided the raw materials which weavers then made into threads to create these textiles.

Kristen Windmuller-Luna: Where would the textiles included in the exhibition, which are all luxury items, have fit into the Loango economy?

Phyllis M. Martin: The Maloango and other wealthy and powerful persons controlled the production of cloth. There were certain gradations according to the labor and creativity involved in their production. The Maloango had control over master weavers, and only they were allowed to produce these incredibly high-value, beautiful pieces. There were four or five gradations of fabric, and commoners would wear very simple cloth. When you're exchanging goods, obviously, this kind of luxury cloth is very high value, so it could be used as a currency—it's like a one- or ten- or a hundred-dollar bill. Several could be used together to vary the value in an exchange. A common person might be wearing just a very basic weave—no colors, no design. In our society we also measure people by the clothes that they're wearing; it's of course much of the same thing. There are many commonalities with European society when you stop to think, especially at this time [the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries].”

excerpted from:

The Visual Archive: A Historian's Perspective on Kongo and Loango Art

Kristen Windmuller-Luna, 2015–16 Sylvan C. Coleman and Pamela Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and Phyllis M. Martin, Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University Bloomington

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Cloth of the month: A rare variant form of Asante adinkra.


ADK071 -   This is the best example I have seen of a very rare variant of woven ground adinkra cloth, as distinct from typical adinkra that is hand stamped  onto machine woven imported fabric.  This type of cloth usually only has two stamped motifs in alternation, and is usually on an orange and red ground, so a white and black ground example such as this with four different motifs is exceptional. The background cloth is composed of an alternation of two different woven strips - the first is plain black and only 5 cm in width, while the second is much wider at 16cm and white with black weft stripes at regular intervals.


Combining the two creates the grid of black squares that frame the stamped motifs. See my recent book: African Textiles: The Karun Thakar Collection (Prestel 2015) for a similar ground cloth with only two motifs.           
In excellent condition. Dates from early to mid C20th. Measurement: 135 ins x 94, 344 cm x 239.  PRICE: Email for price


For more recent acquisitions visit our gallery here.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

"Made of Straw of Rare Beauty": Kongo Textiles in Renaissance European Collections


Interesting blog post on the Kongo textiles at the Met exhibition by British Museum curator Dora Thornton here

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A Jukun court official, Wukari, Nigeria


Rare view of  a Jukun court official in his elaborate strip woven cloth. Date and photographer unknown. Source: @artnewsafrica

Thursday, 15 October 2015

African Textiles: the Karun Thakar Collection


My new book, out now. African Textiles: the Karun Thakar Collection, (Prestel), available now from good bookstores and the usual sources. Main texts and captions are by me, brief foreword by Bernhard Gardi, text in the North Africa section by Dr Miriam Ali-de-Unzaga, and an introduction to his collecting experiences by Karun Thakar. The book is a substantial (320 page) introduction to one of the largest and most important collections of African textiles, with particular strength in West Africa and a number of previously unpublished styles illustrated.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Indigo Details


Mossi strip weave, Burkina Faso.


Yoruba stitch-resist adire, Nigeria, 1960s.


Strip weave, Niger, mid C20th.


Hausa strip weaves, Nigeria, circa 1970.


Yoruba strip weave aso oke, Nigeria, early C20th.


Yoruba strip weave aso oke, Nigeria, early C20th.


Yoruba starch resist adire eleko, Nigeria, circa 1960s.


Hausa stitch resist, Nigeria, circa 1970.


Efik stitch resist, Nigeria, mid C20th.

Please visit our website to view our selection of indigo cloths.

Exhibition: “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” at the British Library.


An exhibition of literature and music – from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today

Fascinating stories from the region’s 17 nations show how West Africans have harnessed the power of words to build societies, drive political movements, sustain religious belief and fight injustice.

Beautiful manuscripts, historic film and sound recordings, books, photographs, and woven and printed textiles offer a unique insight into a profound and engaging literary culture with centuries-old written heritage existing alongside ancient oral traditions.

Hear the myth of the founding of ancient Mali in recorded performance. See the influence of religion through colourful fabric and the saddlebag Qur’an. Celebrate writers and artists including Africa’s first Nobel prize winner, Wole Soyinka, and internationally acclaimed musician and human rights activist Fela Kuti.

- See more at: