Friday, 21 June 2013

A Rare Chief’s Robe at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

1989-808-front- IMA jpg

For serious lovers of African textiles the most exciting exhibit of the current show Majestic African Textiles at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (see earlier post here for details)  will be the chance to view this extremely rare robe. At the time of his important survey catalogue Le Boubou C’est Chic (Editions Christoph Merian/Museum der Kulturen, Basel 2000) Bernhard Gardi noted that only 23 robes in this style were known in collections worldwide. Gardi observes that very little is known about the production and use of this style of robe, which he calls “boubous Manding.” He suggests they were made somewhere in the interior of Liberia and/or Sierra Leone where people of Mande origin descended from migrants from Mali were in the majority.

1989-808-back- IMA jpg

This superb example in Indianapolis can now be added to the small corpus. It’s accession details are:  “Mende people; Sierra Leone, Liberia. royal robe, early 1900s, cotton, wool. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Eiteljorg. 1989.808”  I would suggest it is in fact more likely to be made in the nineteenth century.

1989-808-front detail- IMA

1989-808-back detail- IMA

All photos are copyright Indianapolis Museum of Art, with thanks to Niloo Paydar. Click on the photos to enlarge.


Chief Kai Lunda of Luawa Country, Upper Mendi, circa 1893. He was chief of an area on the border between Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Vintage postcard, authors collection.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Exhibition: “Symmetry/Asymmetry: African Textiles, Dress, and Adornment” at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

March 23-August 25, 2013

“Symmetry/Asymmetry draws attention to African textiles as abstract works of art to highlight their aesthetic dimension. At the same time the exhibition suggests a synaesthetic experience as these once kinetic works engaged multiple senses.
Over 40 works of African textiles, dress, and adornment – to include objects from throughout the continent and from South Africa to the Sahara – are presented. A broad spectrum of art spanning more than 7,000 years of artistic innovation, from a Neolithic stone bracelet to twentieth and twenty-first century commemorative cloths emblazoned with the faces of Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, and President Obama, are included. A magnificent selection of indigo cloths from West Africa and Kuba textiles from Central Africa are also presented. The exhibition provides a surprisingly diverse range of symmetric and asymmetric designs.
Organization & Support
The exhibition is generously funded by the Fred and Rita Richman Special Initiative Endowment Fund for African Art.”


Printed cloths celebrating President Obama.


Yoruba (Nigeria), Wodaabe (Niger) and Malian robes, on the wall (left to right) two Yoruba adire eleko, an indigo wrapper from Senegal, a blue and white cotton blanket from Mali, and a Yoruba women’s weave kijiipa wrapper.


Two kaasa and the reverse of the Malian robe.


Kuba cloths and hats from D.R. Congo.


Dida raffia cloths from Ivory Coast and (right) a barkcloth from D.R. Congo.

Click on the photos to enlarge. All photos copyright the High Museum of Art.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Exhibition: Woven Identities–African Textiles and Photography from the Weickmann and Walther Collections.

Gewebte Identitaeten_groß.75591

“Drawing on contemporary research on West African cotton clothing by the American historian Dr. Collen E. Kriger, the Ulm Museum will present a new view of its world-renowned collection of African clothes in a special exhibition. In dialogue with African photographs from the Neu-Ulm Walther Collection, the significance and tradition of African textiles in history and today will be reconsidered. Contemporary photographs by African artists showing men and women who express their identity through their clothing demonstrate the significance of dress across the centuries.”

Exhibition runs June 7, 2013 to January 12, 2014

The highlight of this exhibition for African textile enthusiasts will be an opportunity to view the two oldest surviving West African garments, the two well known robes that were part of the cabinet of curiosities of Ulm resident Christoph Weickmann before 1659.

Tunic #1 front and back views:



Tunic #2



The two robes were bought in the port kingdom of Allada, close to the present day border between Togo and the Repubic of Benin. They have been published and discussed numerous times, most extensively and thoroughly by Bernhard Gardi in his book Le Boubou c’est Chic (Editions Christoph Merian, 2000) from which the photos above are taken. Gardi’s important article will be re-printed in the exhibition catalogue. He notes that there are both similarities with and important differences from later robes from the West African area, and argues, convincingly in my view, that they were most likely to have been brought to the coast directly or indirectly via trade with people from Mali. As such we can note that they were likely to have been exotic and prestigious imports in Allada as well as in C17th Germany.

Cloth of the month: C19th Yoruba aso oke with silk oxen motif


AS472 - In some Yoruba families early cloths were carefully preserved and handed on between each generation of women as family heirlooms. This piece is another rare example of the classic style of nineteenth century Yoruba aso oke cloth that involved the alternation of a simple warp striped strip with a second design in which supplementary weft float motifs are laid out on a fine blue and white checked background. In an early example such as this the magenta silk thread alaari from the trans-Saharan caravan trade is combined with local hand spun indigo dyed cotton. In the majority of examples, including some shown on this gallery, the weft float designs are geometric as very few figurative motifs are known from the C19th.



This exceptional piece has motifs depicting oxen. I know of only one similar cloth with animal imagery, in the Beving collection at the British Museum, shown below.


Aso oke cloth with oxen motif in the Beving collection at the British Museum, ref #Af1934,0307.140.

For more details on our cloth please visit our gallery here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

More images from old Dahomey


“Féticheuses du Caméléon” – vintage postcard, circa 1900-10. Republic of Benin.


“Chef du Canton d’Abomey” – vintage postcard circa 1900. Republic of Benin.


Former Amazons (redoubtable warriors) – vintage postcard, circa 1900-10, photographer Edmond Fortier.  Republic of Benin.


“Group of Fetish chiefs.” – vintage postcard, circa 1900-10, photographer Edmond Fortier.  Republic of Benin.

Click on the images to enlarge.