Friday, 26 April 2013

African Textiles–details from the shop


Weft-faced Ewe cloths, Ghana/Togo


Yoruba adire cloths, Nigeria


Indigo striped strip weaves, Ivory Coast.


Mostly blankets from Mali.


Mossi indigo cloths, Burkina Faso.


Yoruba indigo cloths, Nigeria.


Ewe men’s cloths, Ghana/Togo.


Dioula and Bondoukou men’s cloths, Ivory Coast.

For other views of these cloths please visit our website.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

New book- “Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World” by Catherine Legrand


This is a beautifully presented and illustrated book that, perhaps inevitably,  relies heavily on the pioneering and more scholarly work of  Jenny Balfour-Paul (Indigo – British Museum Press, 1998), covering much of the same ground but adding some interesting if largely anecdotal material and a good number of often wonderful photographs.

The African section presents brief summaries of familiar material but also a fresh look at the most accessible surviving centre of indigo dyeing on the continent,  among the Dogon people of Mali. The author travelled this region in the company of Belgian author and film maker Patricia Gerimont (whose excellent book and DVD on Malian dyers should not be missed.)




All photos from Indigo: the Colour that Changed the World by Catherine Legrand (Thames & Hudson, 2013.)

Friday, 5 April 2013

New exhibition–“HOLLANDAISE: a journey into an iconic fabric” in Dakar, Accra, Douala

HOLLANDAISE: a journey into an iconic fabric
10 April–1 June 2013

Raw Material Company 
Centre pour l'art, le savoir et la société
Center for art, knowledge and society
4074 bis Sicap Amitié 2
BP 22710 Dakar, Senegal
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10am–7pm

“Raw Material Company announces the exhibition HOLLANDAISE: a journey into an iconic fabric. The exhibition features newly commissioned works by Godfried Donkor, Abdoulaye Konate, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Willem de Rooij and Billie Zangewa. The project is the result of a curatorial collaboration between Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA) and Raw Material Company in the context ofProject 1975. 
Fabrics have played an important role in the decolonization of knowledge. Fabrics tell stories, family stories, stories of commerce, of labor, of creativity, of skills.The background for this exhibition is the long-standing commercial relationship between The Netherlands and Africa. The title refers to the colourful printed fabrics that are exported from The Netherlands to Africa, and are generally known in West Africa as Hollandaise, or Dutch Wax. 
It was Dutch textile companies, such as Vlisco, who developed mass production and commercial applications for Indonesian, Javanese batik in the middle of the 19th century, and found their largest markets at the Atlantic shores of Africa. Today the bright and distinctive wax prints are regarded as typically African, while there is nothing African to them. It is the result of complex globalization processes that created a constructed image of Africanness.
Wax prints belong to the history of alternative cartography. It is the history of the appropriation of knowledge and skills that were invented and produced in Java, became incorporated in Dutch colonial trade routes, traveled and eventually acquired a new identity in Africa. By making the wax prints their own, Africans challenged the ideas that link culture with authenticity, identity with territory, as well as the opposition of modernity versus tradition.
The colourful and indeed irresistibly beautiful fabric is an all-time business for women traders across West Africa. Generations of women in Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana have built commercial empires, and such wealth with the trade of Dutch Wax prints that they are referred to as "Nana-Benz," by virtue of their ability to afford the German car. It is fascinating how quickly this purely European product was appropriated, embraced and adopted as a means of self-expression to embody what is today generally perceived as the quintessential sign of African authenticity. 
HOLLANDAISE: a journey into an iconic fabric is curated by Koyo Kouoh. Five artists from diverse practices and backgrounds were commissioned new works that interpret the trading relations and the cultural aesthetics embedded in the history of this fabric.  
The exhibition presents a two-channel video, The Currency of Ntoma, by Godfried Donkor. The video tells the story of the tradition of collecting wax prints by Ghanean women. Untitled, Abdoulaye Konate's new two-meter-by-seven-meter tapestry, depicts a moment of celebration amidst current war and politcal tensions. La Javanaise is a challenging two-channel cinematic dissection of the Dutch colonial enterprise by Wendelien van Oldenborgh. Blue to Black by Willem de Rooij is a silent critique of racial categorization translated into a specifically designed and manufactured fabric. With the silk tapestriesAngelina Rising, Billie Zangewa subverts the notion of freedom and liberation with one of the most popular Vlisco designs. 
The educational programme during the opening days includes master classes with students and faculty of Dakar's Ecole Nationale des Arts with artists Willem de Rooij and Billie Zangewa as well as a two-day video workshop for young emerging women artists lead by Wendelien van Oldenborgh. The programme continues in May 2013 with lectures by Abdoulaye Konate (May 10) and Françoise Vergès (May 22). 
The exhibition comes with a highly illustrated bilingual (F/E) catalogue with writings by political scientist and cultural historian Françoise Vergès; artist and researcher Senam Okudzeto; and curators Jelle Bouwhuis, Koyo Kouoh and Kerstin Winking. In collaboration with the network of independent art centers in Africa, the exhibition travels to Nubuke Foundation in Accra in July 2013, as well as to Doual'art in Douala in September 2013. 
Raw Material Company acknowledges the generous support of the Mondriaan Fonds and the embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands in Dakar.
For more information please contact:”

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Cloth of the month–an exceptional Bondoukou man’s cloth.


fr473 - One of a very small number of museum quality Bondoukou men's cloths, this subtle and beautiful piece uses complex blocks of coloured weft threads muted by the predominant indigo warp as the sole decorative effect. Although this is a very old decorative technique found in some of the earliest Ghanaian textiles the sophisticated effect achieved here by varying the colours and the placement of blocks is to my knowledge unique. One strip is missing from each edge (they were likely removed because they were excessively frayed) but the cloth is otherwise in very good condition with no patches, holes, or stains. Dates from C19th or early C20th. Measurements: 118ins x 71ins, 300cm x 180cm. PRICE: Email for price.



Bondoukou is in the north east of Ivory Coast, not far from the border with Ghana. Culturally and historically  it shares many features with the nearby Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana, such as small Akan kingdoms and chieftaincies ruling primarily farming peoples and significant communities of Muslim traders of Malian ancestry. The textiles of this region, as I discussed in my article in Hali magazine a few years ago, now on my website here, share features with both Asante and Ewe cloths from Ghana and with Ivoirian cloths of the Guro and Baule.

Two cloths from the collection of the Museum de Kulturen, Basel, published in the important exhibition catalogue Woven Beauty: The Art of West African Textiles edited by Berhard Gardi (Basel, 2009) illustrate the early use of the same technique.


This cloth, collected in 1840, is the oldest documented kente in the world. Here red, yellow, and blue weft stripes are muted by the white warp. The author notes that it may be attributed to either an Asante or an Ewe weaver – although I would suggest the red edge strip is strongly indicative of an Ewe origin.


This second piece, collected in 1886, is attributed by the author to the Asante on the rather weak grounds that the collection location is nearer Asante than it is to the Ewe. It is closer to our cloth in that indigo and white stripes are used in the warp although the variety of weft colours is still much less, and the pattern layout much less sophisticated. Click on the photos to enlarge. More Bondoukou cloths on our website here.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

New pages on Pinterest


We now have pages on Pinterest. Boards will focus on African textiles (a selection including some of my favourites), African Indigo, and African Dress Traditions. Click on the image above to visit.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Akwete Cloths in the British Museum

The Beving Collection in the British Museum is without doubt the most important collection of nineteenth century and early C20th African textiles. Among its highlights is a remarkable group of cloths from the town of Akwete in south eastern Nigeria. Akwete is on the southern fringes of the Igbo speaking area of Nigeria and its women wove cloths that were traded throughout the Niger delta, both as formal dress and for use on various ceremonial occasions. The Akwete loom is the widest variant of the upright single heddle loom with a continuous circular warp that was used in many parts of Nigeria. The cloths woven were up to 120 cm in width allowing them to be worn as a single panel rather than the two joined panels that were more typical of Nigerian women’s weaving.


Postcard, CMS Bookshop, Lagos, 1960s. Author’s collection.


Photo source: Vintage Nigeria. The loom has been moved outside to be photographed.


Photo source: Vintage Nigeria.  Circa 1960s.  Two cloths were worn overlapping each other.

The Beving Collection

“There were two generations of Charles Beving.
Charles Beving senior was a West Africa trader born in Baden (he was Christened Karl), born in 1858. He worked from Manchester in the cotton business, first as a trader, trading in Africa for all but a few months every two years. He became partner in a cotton printing company Blakeley & Beving, and later owned his own company Beving & Co, apparently at a late stage in his career. He is listed in the 1891 Manchester census as 'Africa Merchant' and in 1901 as 'merchant and calico printer'. He died in 1913. He formed for his company a large collection of items, largely textiles, from West Africa and Indonesia, as specimens on which his firm might model its productions for the African market.
This collection was donated to the Museum in 1934 by his eldest son, Charles Adolphus Beving, on behalf of Messrs Beving & Co of Manchester, with the request that it be known as the 'Charles Beving collection' in his father's memory (see letter on file). Braunholtz states that the collection was formed by Beving senior, and there is no reason to think that the son ever made additions to the collection. All items in it therefore have a secure dating before 1913, which makes this one of the earliest documented collections of African textiles.”

From the British Museum site.  All cloths below are part of the Beving Collection and can be assumed to date from before 1913. All are woven from imported cotton thread.  Images © Trustees of the British Museum. For further information on any cloth the file name gives the museum reference number and may be looked up in the “Research the Collections” section of the museum site.






















For more information on Akwete weaving see:

Lisa Aronson -  "Akwete Weaving: Tradition and Change" in Engelbrecht, B. & Gardi, B. eds. Man Does Not Go Naked (Basel, 1989)

Lisa Aronson - "We weave it:" Akwete Weavers, their patrons, and Innovation in a Global Economy. in Tornatore, S. ed. Cloth is the Center of the World: Nigerian Textiles, Global Perspectives. (2001)

Venice Lamb & Judy Holmes – Nigerian Weaving (Shell, 1980)