Friday, 31 December 2010

Fante Asafo Flags on display in Genoa

As part of the exhibition “The Wonders of Africa: African Art from Italian Collections” that opens today at the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, sixteen exceptional Fante Asafo flags will be on display until 5 June 2011. Drawn from an important private collection, this selection highlights the artistry of Fante flagmakers working in the first half of the twentieth century. Please do not reproduce the images below without permission.

asafo flag akra small

black tree flag small

repertorio definitivo (3) small

repertorio definitivo (9) small

repertorio definitivo (10) small

There is an excellent publication “Asafo” by Federico Carmignani that illustrates the collection and introduces new research. Text is in English and Italian. Available from the publishers here.


If you are interested in collecting Asafo flags please take a look at my earlier post on real and fake flags here and the selection in our gallery here.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Ancestral indigo cloths of Saint-Louis

fr215 Ceremonial shawl, Senegal, early C20th. (private collection, London). Click any photo to enlarge.

To mark the current ceremonies for the 350th anniversary of Saint-Louis, Senegal, I am looking today at one of my favourite types of West African textile, the intricate resist-dyed indigo shawls that were once a speciality of Wolof women in Saint-Louis.

Since the late C16th Portuguese settlers on the Cape Verde archipelago organised enslaved weavers from the Guinea coast to produce strip woven cotton textiles that were a vital commodity in the trading strategies of Portuguese trading posts along the West African coast. The most complex of these panos (pagne, cloths) had designs inspired by Hispano-Moorish textiles from the Iberian peninsular adapted to the narrow-strip weaving tradition of West Africa. They were the design forbearers of the Mandjak weaving tradition noted in the previous post. Most of the published literature on these textiles is in Portuguese but there is an important recent article by Carlos F. Liberato “Money, Cloth-Currency, Monopoly, and Slave Trade in the rivers of Guine and the Cape Verde Islands, 1755-77,” online here

Af1934,0307.194 Af1934,0307.194, Beving Collection, British Museum. circa 1900.
capvert Rare view of a Cape Verde panos in use, worn at a batuque dance. Detail of a vintage postcard, circa 1905, authors collection.

The Senegalese indigo dyed cloths we are looking at here seem to have developed from attempts, perhaps in the nineteenth century or even earlier, to replicate these complex and expensive woven design using a cheaper embroidery resist technique. drawing on long established traditions of more simple tie dyed cloth patterning in the Senegambia area. Imported cotton cloth, often cut up into narrow strips for patterning, or with patterns that echoed the narrow strip designs, were embroidered by hand with intricate motifs. The cloth was then dyed in indigo, and as a final stage, the embroidered motifs cut away with a razor blade or sharp knife, to leave white designs on a blue ground.

teinture2 Illustration of embroidered resist technique. Click to enlarge. From the catalogue “Teinture, expression de la tradition en Afrique noire” (Musee de l’Impression sur Etoffes de Mulhouse, 1982)
Af1934,0307.351 British Museum photo showing various stages of production. Af1934, 0307.351

The result of this laborious and painstaking work were some of the most beautiful of West African textiles.

fr216 Ceremonial shawl, Senegal, early C20th. (private collection, London.)
fr217 Ceremonial shawl, Senegal, early C20th. (author’s collection.)

Below are a series of early C20th images from vintage postcards that show the cloths in use…..

indigo01 indigo03
indigo05 indigo06
indigo07 indigo08
indigo09 indigo10
indigo12 indigo15

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Mandjak Textiles exhibition in Saint-Louis, Senegal



“Saint-Louis du Sénégal

Salle de conférence de « La Maison Rose »

10 décembre - 31 décembre 2010
Exposition « Pagnes … Panos »

Pagnes … Panos … est une exposition itinérante de textiles d’une tradition pluriséculaire appelés « pagnes Mandjak ». Organisée par Maï Diop, designer textile française installée à Saint-Louis depuis 12 ans, cette exposition fait l’objet d’un intérêt croissant des amateurs, collectionneurs et musées. Une sélection de 4O pièces venant de Guinée Bissau, du Cap vert et du Sénégal où Saint-Louis capitale de l’élégance est très représentée, a été choisie parmi la collection de l’organisatrice.

Cette exposition se distingue par la richesse tant au plan des techniques employées que de la finesse des pagnes : supports d’affectivité, de superstitions et de noblesse, ces majestueuses étoffes sont produites par d’excellents tisserands encore aujourd’hui.

Dans le cadre des célébrations de Saint-Louis, dont l’année anniversaire des 350 ans touche à sa fin, cette exposition est une invitation à découvrir et à porter un nouveau regard sur ces textiles africains : ils ont les qualités des femmes qui en dirigent la production : l’élégance, le dynamisme, la créativité. “

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Lamb Collection of African Textiles on-line

Venice Lamb is a pioneering figure in the study and documentation of West African textiles. The series of books she published together her husband Alastair in the 1970s and 80s are still the only monographs devoted to most of these areas, and remain essential both for the wide variety of photographs and their recording of many traditions that have since evolved markedly or in some cases disappeared altogether: Venice Lamb, West African Weaving (Duckworth, 1975) – mainly covering Ghana; Venice Lamb & Judy Holmes, Nigerian Weaving (Roxford, 1980); Venice & Alastair Lamb, Au Cameroun Weaving – Tissage (Roxford, 1981); Venice & Alastair Lamb, Sierra Leone Weaving (Roxford, 1984).

The collection of textiles assembled by the Lambs is owned jointly by the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. Part of the collection was exhibited soon after the purchase and highlights of this may be seen in the small but important book by Peggy Stoltz Gilfoy, Patterns of Life: West African Strip Weaving Traditions (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, 1987.) A small number of the Lamb cloths are also online as collection highlights at the National Museum of African Art website – search for “Costume and textiles” on the Advanced Search page here.

More importantly for scholars of African textiles, it is now possible to access a large part of the Lamb collection through the main Smithsonian database here. Entering “Venice Lamb” as the search term pulls up 1563 records, of which 988 include photos online. The strength of the Lamb’s collection of Asante kente cloths is well known and most of the major pieces have been published, but I was interested to see a number of very fine small cloths, described as shawls or headtie’s. Brigitte Menzel also collected a number of these miniature kente in the 1970s but I have seen only one in all my years of collecting in Ghana.

Click on photos for larger views…..

112cm x 59.3cm
NMNHEJ10594 USNM#:EJ10594.
”liar’s cloth” pattern.
81cm x 37cm

Also of interest is a group of Manjak and Papel cloths from Guinea Bissau.

NMNHEJ10109 USNM#:EJ10109.
Wrapper, 185cm x 114cm.

For me though the most exciting pieces are three cloths unlike any I have seen before…..

NMNHEJ10227 USNM#:EJ10227.
Shroud. 219cm x 168c.
Collected in Ferkessedougou, Cote D’Ivoire.
NMNHEJ10375 USNM#:EJ10375.
Woman’s wrapper. 159cm x 104cm. Collected 1980 in Bafodia, Sierra Leone.
NMNHEJ11423 USMN#:EJ11423.
233cm x 56cm. Collected in 1975 in D.R. Congo. Donor’s comment – “string net cloth, the function of this unusual cloth is not clear.”
My own comment would be that surely this strip woven cloth must have been traded to Congo from West Africa.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

“African Lace” exhibition in Vienna–some photographs

Images from the exhibition “African Lace” at the Ethnology Museum, Vienna, from 22 October 2010 to 14 February 2011. Organised jointly with the National Museum in Lagos, where the show will also appear in 2011, these photographs are courtesy of the co-curator Dr Barbara Plankensteiner and are copyright the museum as follows: Photographs: Alexander Rosoli, © KHM mit MVK und ÖTM. Please do not reproduce them without direct permission from the museum. Click on any image to see a larger version.







There are also two videos of the show posted on YouTube:

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Exceptional early Kuba cloth at Sotheby’s Paris


Lot 7 in Sotheby’s forthcoming African Art sale “A New York Collection” to be held in Paris on November 30th is this superb early raffia textile from the Kuba kingdon in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Estimated at Euro 1000 – 2000 and measuring 76cm x 57, this piece is reminiscent of some of the earliest Kuba cloths from the British Museum’s Torday collection.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Wearing African Textiles–part 4.

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.
Manding robe, C19th, author’s collection. These rare robes are discussed in Bernard Gardi Le Boubou C’est Chic (Basel, 2000.) Less than 25 examples are known from museum collections worldwide.

Wearing African Textiles - part 3

dowdah Yoruba aso oke strip woven cloth from Nigeria was widely admired in West Africa and was traded in large quantities to nearby countries. In this rare postcard image from Sierra Leone, taken around 1905, the lady at the right is wearing an aso oke shawl similar to the C19th example below.
Asooke361 Very rare C19th wrapper cloth. Magenta trans-Saharan silk is used for both warp and weft in the plain strips making the cloth very lightweight. These strips alternate with magenta silk weft float patterns on a fine blue and white check ground. This is an early example of a style of cloth that continued to be made into the 1950s. More information on this cloth in our online gallery here

Sunday, 31 October 2010

New book: African Wax Print, A Textile Journey by Magie Relph & Robert Irwin


Magie Relph is a quilter who travels widely in Africa and together with Robert Irwin, runs the very wonderful online African Fabric Shop . This entertaining and beautifully illustrated new book chronicles their encounters with African wax print and their research with A Brunnschweiler and Co (ABC) into both old and new designs. A closing section illustrates a selection of quilts inspired by African prints.


The book is available direct from the authors at the African Fabric Shop.

Monday, 25 October 2010

New book: “Contemporary African Fashion”


“Contemporary African Fashion,” Edited by Suzanne Gott and Kristyne Loughran (Indiana University Press, 2010). Important new book with chapters by most of the leading scholars in the growing field of research into fashion in Africa and the African diaspora.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Some more vintage Yoruba adire cloths from Nigeria


Today we have updated the selection of vintage adire cloths from the Yoruba speaking region of Nigeria on our website. Adire means tie and dye, although many of the hand made patterns were created using painted on cassava starch to resist the indigo dye. Details of descriptions, sizes and prices on our gallery here or visit us in London…..