Friday, 25 February 2011

"Bògòlanfini, Patterns of Bamana Culture," exhibition at SUNY Cortland


“An exhibition of the African artistic abilities that transform natural materials such as cloth and clay into spectacular artifacts will open on Monday, Feb. 28, in Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland.

"Bògòlanfini, Patterns of Bamana Culture," an exhibit that explores authentic mudcloth methods practiced by people belonging to Bamana Culture in Mali, Africa, is from the personal collection of Kassim Kone, professor of anthropology and linguistics at SUNY Cortland.

An opening reception will take place the same day beginning at 5 p.m. at Dowd Gallery. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be enhanced by a dance performance by the Africana Dance Ensemble. Refreshments will be served.

Three lectures will accompany the exhibit, which runs through Monday, April 18:

• Barbara Hoffman, associate professor in the Anthropology Department at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, will speak beginning at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8;

• Tavy Aherne, visiting professor and art historian from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., will present at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 31; and

• Kone will discuss his collection at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6.

All lectures will be in the Dowd Gallery and are free and open to the public.

The project represents a collaboration between Kone and Dowd Gallery Guest Curator Jenn McNamara, assistant professor of fibers in the College's Art and Art History Department.

"In Bamanakan, bogo means clay or mud, lan by the means of, and fini or finis means cloth," explained McNamara. "Choosing the work for this show was rather difficult given so many beautiful examples. In the end, the exhibit is arranged so the viewer may see the wide variety of functions the mudcloth serves: initiation ceremonies, hunting garb, symbology and storytelling as well as the appearance of global influences on the cloth. Each symbol incorporated in the design has a specific meaning and importance."

Many local women have studied this technique, dedicating their lives to introducing the craft to the world beyond African borders.

"The renowned artist Nakunte Jara, whose work has been on permanent display at the Smithsonian, created many of the mudcloths in Kassim's collection that are included in the exhibition," McNamara said.

"The mud dyeing technique not only reflects a long history and cultural integrity but has also become a tool to propel Mali's cultural future and its place in the contemporary world," McNamara explained.

The most recent high profile use of mudcloth was its inclusion in the RED product line launched by U2's Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006 when Converse chose to make Chuck Taylor shoes from mudcloth. This highly publicized event began in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum and culminated at the Oprah Winfrey and Larry King Shows in the U.S. Kone was the anthropologist hired to purchase the mudcloth for Bono's RED-Converse mudcloth Chuck Taylor shoe project.

Kone grew up in the Beledugu region, believed to be the heart of Mali's mudcloth art.

"Bògòlan is a very important component of Bamana culture as this cloth is an essential part of most Bamana initiation and ritual events," Kone said. "I began to research bògòlan at a very early age when I worked as a research assistant to many American doctoral students. I began to collect mudcloth when I was in college. No two pieces are the same, even when dyed by the same artist. This explains why over the course of many years I have amassed a significant collection of mudcloths."”

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Erykah Badu Yoruba Style


From ARISE magazine, issue 11. Erykah Badu wears a vintage Yoruba aso olona cloth. Aso olona (“cloth with designs”) are woven on the upright loom by Yoruba women in the vicinity of the city of Ijebu-ode and were worn as insignia of office by chiefs and officials in the Oshugbo/Ogboni association of Earth priests and priestesses. The style dates back to at least the C18th.

Femme Daga, Mali


Africaniste painting “Femme Daga” by G. Mahaut 1939


Vintage postcard, circa 1930.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Africa Through A Lens


5419191638_ef3b43cec2_o“Africa Through A Lens” is a new project of the UK National Archives, making available online via Flickr thousands of photographs of Africa from the former Colonial Office archive. The home page for the project is here.The collection includes a number of important images of Nigerian chiefs and kings from the late C19th and early C20th, a great range of views of everyday dress in many parts of Nigeria, a superb set of photos of Ghana, including those shown above, and original prints of some well known images of Sierra Leone.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Agbada: embroidered robe traditions in Nigeria and beyond


Agbada is the Yoruba name for a type of flowing wide sleeved robe, usually decorated with embroidery, which is worn throughout much of Nigeria by important men, such as kings and chiefs, and on ceremonial occasions like weddings and funerals. The Hausa name for the robes is riga. Although today they are often still made from hand-woven cloth, the painstaking and beautiful hand embroidery that was used in the past is very rarely seen. Fine old robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and worn with pride at major celebrations. In the past prestige robes were traded over vast distances and similar or related garments are found throughout much of West Africa.


Vintage postcard, circa 1900, author’s collection. (Click to enlarge) The Alake of Abeokuta was the senior king of the leading town of the Egba Yoruba in south western Nigeria.

During the late eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth century the existing order of power in much of what is now Nigeria was upset by the impact of an Islamic jihad inspired by the Muslim Fulani leader Uthman dan Fodio. Across the city states of the Hausa in the North, down to the Nupe people on the banks of the river Niger, and as far South as the Yoruba city of Ilorin rulers were swept aside to be replaced by Muslim emirates. The main Yoruba power of Oyo was defeated and their capital city abandoned in the 1830s. The new Fulani rulers brought with them a style of male dress consisting of flowing robes and huge baggy trousers adapted for horseback riding. They also bought an Islamic tradition of "robes of honour" where embroidered gowns and the flowing turbans worn with them became badges of office for both rulers and court officials. Emirs and other rulers purchased the finest robes for themselves and distributed numerous others to their courtiers. An elaborate trade network developed, with both Nupe and Yoruba weavers and embroiderers, along with specialist tailors, cloth beaters, and dyers, serving the the main emirates. Rulers of other courts such as Yoruba kings beyond the reach of Fulani power adopted the same style of dress, and in the twentieth century the gowns became the accepted dress of important men across a large area of Nigeria and into neighbouring countries. The best robes were tailored from highly prestigious cloths, including plain white handspun cotton fari, beige local wild silk tsamiya (Yoruba name sanyan), imported magenta (wine red) silk alharini (Yoruba alaari) and handspun indigo-dyed saki (known to the Yoruba as etu.) They were embroidered with variations on two classic designs known as "two knives" and "eight knives". It is thought that the embroidery may have had a protective role with elements related to Islamic amulet design (see the previous post on “magic squares” etc), as well as a practical function in strengthening the pocket and neck of the gown. In recent years changes in fashion, the introduction of embroidering machines, and the spread of luxury imported cloths have led to a decline in the demand for top quality hand-made robes and the old skills of weaving fine hand-spun cotton and of hand embroidery are almost lost.


Detail of “two knives” embroidery design on natural beige wild silk ground. Click on the photo to enlarge. For a full view of the robe go to our gallery page here.


Vintage postcard, circa 1910, authors collection. A chief of Shendam in central Nigeria. As well as his robe he wears embroidered trousers of the style shown below.



Vintage postcard, circa 1910, authors collection. The Moro Naba, king of the Mossi people in Ouagadougou, now in Burkina Faso. (Click to enlarge.)

To visit our web gallery and view robes currently in stock click here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Magic Squares: The Patterned Imagination of Muslim Africa in Contemporary Culture


Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto

May 18, 2011 - Nov 20, 2011

Curated by Patricia Bentley

“Four contemporary artists explore the relationship of patterns, communication and spirit in conversation with textiles and symbols from the Museum’s permanent collection of Islamic African artifacts. Magic squares, known all over the world as mathematical games like Sudoku and Kenken, become carriers of powerful and diverse cultural meanings when they are painted, woven or embroidered on textiles in Muslim Africa.”