Thursday, 13 August 2009

Kuba Kitsch ?

Cut-pile embroidered squares from the Kuba
kingdom in the D.R. Congo are among the best known of African textiles. Their abstract geometric designs and exploration of complex symmetry have long been appreciated by collectors who otherwise show little interest in African fabrics. However although large quantities of new cloths are woven in Congo and are readily available internationally, there is relatively little published information about the circumstances in which they are now produced. Catholic missionary involvement in at least some kuba cloth weaving goes back to the early decades of the C20th, but we have no knowledge of the ways in which this may have impacted design. The two cloths shown here are the only examples I know of that have figurative designs. The first was bought several years ago from a dealer in Portobello Road, London, the second, which belongs to a UK private collector, was found in a tourist market in Namibia. Whilst perhaps visually disturbing to a connoisseur of classic kuba pieces they do raise a number of interesting questions. Clearly the imagery of these two indicates a certain context but are they typical of a wider number or very isolated examples. Are figurative kubas intended solely for specific local presentational or display uses ? Several Congolese dealers who buy regularly in the markets of Kinshasa were surprised to see these suggesting that they are far from common. Any information or images of further examples would be most welcome.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Woven Beauty: the Art of West African Textiles

Woven Beauty: the Art of West African Textiles is an important new exhibition at the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland from 28.08.09 to 16.05.10.
"The Museum der Kulturen holds a significant collection of West African textiles that was assembled systematically in the mid-1970s. On a 16-month journey from Lagos to Dakar, which was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the curator of the Africa department at the time, Renee Boser-Sarivaxevanis, and the present curator, Bernhard Gardi, collected roughly 1000 textiles at markets in towns and villages, and directly from producers and owners. Now, a generation later, and on the occasion of the 50th independence anniversary of many African nations, the Museum der Kulturan presents an exhibition showing a rich selection of classical, and now rare, textile art-works from Mali,Nigeria, Côte D’Ivoire, and Ghana. I will have a lot more to say about this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, which has an English edition, in the coming months.

Hali magazine surveys the market for African textiles

Hali is the world's premier magazine for collectors of rugs and textiles. In what may be an important boost to international collector interest in textiles from sub-Saharan Africa the current issue (#190 Autumn 2009) includes a "Market Report" on African textiles. Written by San Francisco dealers in Asian Art, Joe Loux and Katie Suckling, it aims to "investigate how African textiles fit into the market in African Art and their appeal to textile connoisseurs." A number of dealers were interviewed by the authors and a selection of views on the state of the market surveyed. It is well illustrated with a number of rare and important pieces. I have a small number of offprints which are available on request. The issue also includes a brief "Benchmark" article by me on an exceptional Asante kente cloth we sourced which is now on display in the British Museum.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Adire African Textiles

Adire African Textiles is a small London based gallery dedicated solely to exploring the vintage textile traditions of sub-Saharan Africa. We work with a network of partners throughout West Africa to source exceptional museum quality textiles for clients that include leading museums worldwide, private collectors, and interior designers. A selection of these textiles can be viewed online at our site as well as at our space in Alfies Antique Market, Marylebone, London (for location details and opening hours see here
. )
Although weaving and dyeing continue to flourish in many parts of West Africa many old styles have changed beyond recognition or died out altogether. As time passes and memories fade knowledge of these past glories is increasingly preserved in museums and private collections, as well as captured in vintage photographs and archival documents. Recognition of the achievements of African textile artists has grown since the 1960s leading to a growing body of scholarship, research, publications, and exhibitions devoted both to the traditions of the past and to textile production, dress styles and fashion in Africa today. This blog will review new publications, and where possible new exhibitions. I will also be looking at online resources, in particular at important museum collections of African textiles that are increasingly accessible on the net. I will consider what can be learned from vintage images of textile production and use, such as the wonderful postcard from Senegal, dated circa 1910, accompanying this post. It shows a Wolof lady wearing two indigo cloths with incredibly intricate embroidered resist patterns typical of urban Senegalese ceremonial dress in the early decades of the C20th - I will return to these elusive and fascinating cloths in a future post. Occasionally I will highlight significant new acquisitions in our gallery or specific groups of our textiles.