Tuesday, 21 August 2012

New book: African Textiles Today by Chris Spring

African Textiles Today by Chris Spring (British Museum Press), shifts the focus away from the woven textile traditions of West And Central Africa that dominated the museum’s classic but now over two decades old, African Textiles by John Picton and John Mack. Instead Spring devotes the largest part of the book’s colourful selection of images and comparatively brief and accessible texts to printed textiles, notably to the so-called “wax” and “fancy print” styles of West and Central Africa and especially to the “kangas” and related cloths made for the Eastern and Southern African markets. This shift mirrors a broadening in the British Museum’s acquisition and displays over recent years to encompass these previously neglected areas.


Kanga, Tanzania, 1960s. Af2003,21.1 : “The inscription, in Kiswahili written in Arabic script, reads: You left the door open, so the cat ate the doughnut; what are you going to do about it, tenant ?” page 190.

Rather than attempting an encyclopaedic survey of the myriad of textiles produced in Africa over recent decades, the book sets out a number of themes, including trade, status, communication, and systems of belief, illustrating them with brief “stories” based on individual textiles and drawn widely from across the continent. Other chapters look at the currently fashionable engagement between textiles and a number of contemporary African artists (a topic that provides the front cover image of an El Anatsui sculpture) and at textiles in photography (the back cover image of Samuel Fosso as a parody Congo chief.) Drawing on his research and publications on topics including kangas, contemporary African art, and the textile traditions of North Africa, Chris Spring is able to highlight interesting and often unexpected parallels between diverse artefacts and traditions.


A New Beginning by Araminta de Clermont, Cape Town, South Africa, 2009-10. South Sotho men – “These three young men wear another kind of blanket known as lekhokolo, which shows that they have completed the initiation ceremony and reached manhood. Designs such as the maize cob or Poone, seen here on their Seana Marena label blankets, are very popular for lekhokolo, as they signify virility and fertility.” page 228.

Although some fine and historically significant objects from the British Museum’s collection of West African textiles are illustrated and discussed, I would have liked to see a book with this title pay more attention to developments today in the still vibrant historical textile traditions of West Africa, where significant innovation is apparent in both weaving and dyeing of cloth in many areas. Nevertheless it is African printed textiles that have in recent years been at the heart of a growing appreciation of African fashion and of a growing recognition of the work of African fashion designers. In exploring the British Museum’s expanded collection activities in this field, and in concluding with the work of Duro Olowu, a leading Nigerian born fashion designer, Spring’s lively book looks ahead to new directions in this fascinating and still under- researched field.


Monday, 20 August 2012

An exceptional Dogon uldebe blanket


Superb early example of a style of nine strip blanket with nine rows of pattern that is called Uldebe among the Dogon, where it has an important and very specific role in the funerary and post funeral rites of high status men and women. According to Bernhard Gardi (Dogon, ed. Helene Leloup, 2011, page 180) each family would have one uldebe blanket that was used to wrap the body of any important deceased man or woman during funeral ceremonies, but then, rather than being buried with the corpse as was typical of funerary cloths in West Africa, retrieved and displayed in the courtyard of the deceased for six days as a focal point for homage to the dead. A very specific variant of the blue and white cotton blankets that were used throughout much of Mali, uldebe (also known as gamba) were woven only in a few villages in the district of Pinia. A Uldebe blanket was the sole textile included in the recent Dogon exhibition in the Musee Quai Branly, Paris.


However this particular cloth was collected in a remote village in northern Ghana where Malian blue and white blankets have been prized in Ghana for centuries and were used for prestige display be chiefs (and therefore would not have been used at funerals !) This is an exceptionally fine and early example, circa 1920-40s, woven from hand spun thread throughout, and in excellent condition. More ordinary uldebe blankets are fairly easy to obtain and indeed still in use in Mali, but an intact example of this age, quality, and condition is very rare. Click here to see this cloth and others in our online gallery.


Modern uldebe used to receive tribute offerings at the installation of a hogon or medicinal specialist. Photo by Inogo Dolo, 2012. More details here


Rare image of a Fulbe elder (not Dogon) wearing an uldebe cloth as a prestige wrapper, early C20th. (vintage postcard, published by Larger, author’s collection.)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A glimpse of Dogon textiles today.


Some more photos taken earlier this year in Dogon country, Mali, this time by Ilsemargret Luttmann. As we can see design innovation in indigo dyeing, embroidery, and weaving are very much a feature of contemporary dress.







All photos copyright Ilsemargret Luttmann. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

“Dames de Couleurs / Colourful Ladies”–new DVD on women dyers in Mali


“Sanata and Dicko are dyers  in Mali. Sanata produces coloured bazin fabrics with her co-wives in Bamako.
Dicko lives in the bush in Dogon country and dyes loincloths using indigo.
They have amazing skills, and yet both constantly face the same challenge : ensuring a decent life for their children.”


“Dames de Couleurs” is a new Dvd exploring the continued vitality of dyeing traditions in Mali today, moving from urban Bamako to a village in Dogon country. Produced by Patricia Gerimont and Jean-Claude Taburlaux it will be available in September from http://www.cvb-videp.be/ – hopefully with an English subtitle version. Patricia Gerimont is the author of Teinturieres a Bamako: Quand la couleur sort de sa reserve (Ibis, 2008) which is one of the best recent books on an African textile traditions, available from French Africanist bookseller Soumbala.

Below are a few more of Patricia’s photographs – click on images to enlarge. All photographs in this post are copyright Patricia Gerimont. Please do not reproduce without permission.






Dogon country