Monday, 23 July 2012

Gilbert “Bobbo” Ahiagble, Master Weaver


Gilbert “Bobbo” Ahiagble, Ewe Master Weaver. Photo by Lisa Aronson

To mark the recent passing of Bobbo Ahiagble, who was undoubtedly the best known and most successful Ewe master weaver and kente entrepreneur we reproduce below a brief biography written a few years back for the site

“Gilbert "Bobbo" Ahiagble, of the Ewe ethnic group is a Master Kente Cloth Weaver from the Volta Region of Ghana.

He began assisting his father by winding bobbins at the age of three and moved onto the West African loom as soon as his legs could reach the treadles, at around the age of nine. He obtained a solid formal education also and his academic abilities opened doors for him and he soon received a diploma as a secondary school teacher, which obliged him to make a choice at the age of 21, to become a teacher or to remain a weaver. Influenced by words he heard from his Peace Corps math teacher, he combined the two and became a teacher of Kente cloth weaving.

Bobbo was first invited to the USA in 1975 as an Artist-In-Residence at the Museum of African Art, then a small, private museum which became part of the Smithsonian Institution several years later. His skills as a communicator soon gave him the title of "Cultural Ambassador of Kente Cloth" and continuous invitations to work abroad came from Switzerland, Canada and the USA. Most recently he taught American fiber artists the fine art of Kente weaving in a workshop held in Atlanta at the prestigeous conference of the Handweavers Guild of America, "Convergence".

Bobbo has had a major influence on traditional West African strip cloth weavers beyond the borders of Ghana. He serves as a spokesperson for the power in the language of Kente cloth, filled with symbolic proverbs present to enrich the lives of everyone ready to listen and learn.

Just recently he has co-authored a children's book, titled Master Weaver from Ghana, with Louise S. Meyer, with outstanding photographs of his home town taken by Nestor Hernandez, a Washington, DC based documentary photographer. And he has built a school and dormitory in Denu, called the Craft Institute of Kente Weaving, where student groups can stay and learn traditional Kente cloth weaving.”

text copyright Reproduced with permission.

I only met Bobbo on one occasion in 2008 at his base in Denu, but was pleased to collect several of his cloths, one of which (shown below) is now in the collection of the British Museum.


Virtually every expat who spent time in Accra over the past three decades knew Bobbo and he will be fondly remembered worldwide. Louise Meyer has organised an event to celebrate and remember him in Washington on August 4th. Details below:


Friday, 13 July 2012

Ghana Boy meets Al-Buraq


In the 1960s and 70s many young Dogon and Bamana  men from Mali migrated to the relatively cosmopolitan cities of Accra and Kumase in Ghana in search of work. Back home to show of their new found sophistication these youths became known as the “Ghana Boys.”  Alongside imported clothing,  some wore a new and distinctive style of embroidered sleeveless tunic  decorated with colourful and often figurative designs.


This example, which was collected recently in Jenne, has a particularly fine depiction of Al-Buraq, the winged horse that carried the Prophet on his night journey to Jerusalem.

For more on “Ghana Boy” tunics see Victoria L. Rovine: Continuity, Innovation, Fashion – Three Genres of Malian Embroidery in African Arts 44(3) Autumn 2011

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Weft Faced Ewe Kente


Continuing our exploration of some recent additions to our Ewe Kente gallery today’s post looks at a dramatic style of weft faced Ewe cloth in which solid blocks of colour are arranged in patterns across the fabric.

Ewe649 - Fine Ewe chief's cotton cloth in the weft faced, so-called "checkerboard" style, with subtle variation in the shades of green and pale greenish brown used with the bolder red, blue, and yellow blocks. It is rare to find cloths of this style that are, as this one is, complete and intact with no patches or repairs. Condition is excellent, age circa 1910-30s. Measurements: 130ins x 70, 330cm x 178.

Click on photos to enlarge…



The Ewe name for these heavyweight weft faced cloths is titriku which just means “thick cloth.” It is possible that they are primarily the work of weavers in the more northerly and easterly, and perhaps peripheral regions of what is now regarded as the Ewe regions of Ghana and Togo, although much further research is needed. The late C19th Basel Mission photograph below (reproduced in Lamb West African Weaving 1975), which shows the man at the left wearing a similar cloth, is one of several that confirm that this style was produced in area in the nineteenth century at least, if not earlier. The chief at the centre may be seen, wearing what appears to be the same cloth, in another image on our website here.


In photographs they can sometimes be confused with superficially similar block patterned cloths called tapi woven in Mali, a much more recent tradition that Bernhard Gardi sees as dating only from the 1950s. However the latter have different layouts, different colour combinations, and a different weight and texture.

For this and other fine Ewe cloths please visit our Gallery here.

Monday, 9 July 2012

New Book: African Textiles Today by Chris Spring


African Textiles Today by Chris Spring
”A fascinating insight into the living history of Africa
African textiles are patterned with stories that range far beyond the time of the creation or the lifetime of their creator. In Africa, cloth is used to commemorate important events, people or political struggles that in other parts of the world might be recorded in writing, or marked by a plaque or monument.
This beautifully illustrated book deciphers these hidden stories, whilst also revealing the relevance of African textiles today, exploring how the dynamic traditions in African cloth-making have provided inspiration for the continent’s foremost contemporary artists and photographers. Africa’s long engagement with the peoples of the Mediterranean and the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans provides a story of change and continuity, showing how ideas, techniques, materials and markets have adapted and flourished.
Accompanied by 200 stunning illustrations revealing the rich variety of textile traditions throughout Africa, this new work showcases some of the world’s finest examples of textile arts.”

Front cover detail
Detail of the sculpture Woman’s Cloth by El Anatsui. The piece was inspired by the Kente cloth tradition. Metal foil bottle tops. Wire. Nsukka. Nigera, 2002.

The author
Chris Spring is curator of the African collection at the British Museum. He is the author of numerous books on African art and culture including African Arms and Armour, North African Textiles and African Art in Detail (British Museum Press), and Angaza Afrika: African Art Now.
Publishing October 2012 256 pages 200 colour illustrations ISBN 978 0 7141 1559 7 HB £30

Thursday, 5 July 2012

An Ewe Kente Masterpiece


Truly exceptional Ewe chief’s cloth with complex and varied supplementary weft float decoration throughout. Motifs include ceremonial multi-bladed swords, animals, birds, hands, people, fish, weaver’s pulleys, etcetera. Interesting use of colour – just two colours are used for the float motifs – yellow and white, three for the background weave – yellow, red and blue, and five for the weft faced bands – yellow, red, blue, white and green. Cloths with this level of decoration were extremely expensive to commission and would only have been worn by the wealthiest men. Today we very rarely find cloths of this quality, and this is among the finest we have collected in many years. Dates from circa 1900-30s. Condition: No patches or repairs. There is a slightly discoloured area visible five strips down from the upper left corner in the photo. One of the original 24 strips has been removed – this would have been retained in the family of the original owner as a continued memento of the deceased ancestor when they decided to sell this cloth. Size: 111 ins x 74, 282cm x 188.



Click on any photo to enlarge.


For more details on this cloth and others in our recently updated selection please click here to visit our gallery.