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.

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