Tuesday, 30 July 2013

“Cloth in West African History” by Colleen Kriger


Last Monday Colleen and I met for a chat in a sunny London square and we had a kind of African textile show and tell. I showed her a few obscure early Nigerian textiles from my collection while she showed or rather told me of even earlier and more obscure fragments of information she had uncovered in her continuing archival investigations. My idea of a great time as you can imagine.

I was pleased to hear that Colleen is working on a new book but in the meantime this seems a good point to remind you of her important previous work Cloth in West African History which anyone interested in African textiles needs to own. Still available from Amazon  so buy one today.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Exploring the West African textile collections of the Musee du Quai Branly: Part Four–Two Fon Royal Tunics.


“Gbecon-Huegbo workshop and Yemadje family: Ceremonial tunic (?), Fon style -  late 19th Century. Cotton 87.5 cm x 143. #71.1936.21.103 Musee du Quai Branly. Donated by Bernard Maupoil.”

“The kansawu is a “predator” tunic, designed to give freedom of movement to the arms and hands. However the presence of pockets means this is an item of clothing of the court, even a royal item. The quality and the extent of the embroidery, undoubtedly inspired by workshops in the Yoruba and Hausa territory, indicate its value and the rank of its wearer. This item of clothing was a joint work between the weavers of Gbekon Huegbo and Hounli, the cutting workshop and the Yemadje embroiderers of the Hountondji district.” [Abomey, Benin Republic.]

text by Joseph Adandé (Source:  Gaëlle Beaujean-Baltzer ed. Artistes D’Abomey – Fondation Zinsou, 2009).


“Gnimavo family  and Yemadje family: Prime Minister’s robe, Fon style -  between 1818 and 1858. Cotton and bone. 103.5 cm x 103.5cm x 10cm. #71.1936.21.66. Musee du Quai Branly. Donated by Bernard Maupoil.”

“Robe of Xagla, the migan of Guez0 (1818-1858). On the front a goats’ skull, from which the migan drank alcohol in private, before the sacrifices. Inside, a human jawbone, on which was eaten the powder of strength. the goats’ head has been daubed with human blood. (…) Robe worn when an enemy king or a particularly redoubtable individual was about to be exexcuted.” (Inv. Musee de l’Homme by B. Maupoil, 1936.) “

(Source:  Gaëlle Beaujean-Baltzer ed. Artistes D’Abomey – Fondation Zinsou, 2009). I would urge anyone to track down this remarkable and beautifully designed catalogue/book.

Friday, 12 July 2013

“Majestic African Textiles” at Indianapolis Museum of Art–some more views


May 3, 2013-March 2, 2014

Gerald and Dorit Paul Galleries, Indianapolis Museum of Art

A couple of month's back I posted some images of this beautifully presented show. All were of one of the two galleries. The photos below mainly show the second gallery, including a selection of the IMA’s important collection of Moroccan textiles.

MAT-2 2013 IMA

MAT-7 2013 IMA

MAT-8 2013 IMA

MAT-10 2013 IMA

MAT-11 2013 IMA

MAT-12 2013 IMA

Click on the photos to enlarge. All photos copyright Indianapolis Museum of Art.

West African Robes: some early photos of Nigerian robes

To mark the recent update of the robe section of our gallery, today I am posting a selection of early images of this style of robe in use. Although this style of robe was made in and closely associated with the nineteenth century Sokoto Caliphate in north Nigeria, taking in Hausa, Nupe and northern Yoruba peoples, such was it’s prestige that it was traded and worn across a much wider expanse of West Africa.


Photographer unknown. Lagos, Nigeria, Circa 1890.


Photographer N. Walwin Holm or J.A. C. Holm, circa 1900-10. The Alake of Abeokuta.


Photographer unknown, Cameroun, early C20th.


Photographer unknown, Burkina Faso, early C20th. the Moro Naba, king of the Mossi, Ouagadougou.


Photographer unknown, early C20th, Tuareg Chief, Zinder, Niger.


Photographer unknown, early C20th. Hausa dance troupe, northern Nigeria.


Photographer unknown, early C2oth, Shendam, east central Nigeria.

Click on the photos to enlarge. Please visit our robe gallery to see our current stock and for more information.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

West African Robes–an updated selection of fine early examples


Flowing wide sleeved robes, usually decorated with embroidery, became one of the predominant forms of male prestige dress worn by chiefs and other wealthy men across a large part of West Africa from at least the Sixteenth Century. Their distribution owes much to the diffusion of Islam along key trade routes, although not everyone who wore them was a Muslim. There were a number of mainly quite rare local variants but the predominant type was associated particularly with the C19th Sokoto Caliphate centred on northern Nigeria and primarily the product of Hausa, Nupe and Oyo Yoruba textile workers (cotton spinners, dyers, weavers, tailors, embroiderers, beaters.) The Hausa name for these robes is riga, while among the Yoruba they were called agbada. It is usually not possible to attribute a specific ethnic origin to this type of robe on stylistic grounds alone. Although today they are often still made from hand-woven cloth, the painstaking and beautiful hand embroidery that was used in the past is very rarely seen. Fine old robes have become family heirlooms passed on from father to son and worn with pride at major celebrations.







For descriptions, details etcetera of all these robes please visit our updated gallery here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cloth of the month: An Owo Yoruba royal shawl


AS394 - Unique royal shawl cloth "elegheghe" woven by a weaver called Obamadesara in the Yoruba town of Owo. Obamadesara was a prince in one of the royal compounds of Owo who travelled widely around Nigeria in his youth and returned to the town around 1920. From then until his death in the 1950s he wove a small number of shawl cloths for women in his lineage in a unique style that included the tapestry weave lizzard motif shown here (similar patterns on other West African textiles were woven using an entirely different supplementery weft float technique.) Owo was a centre of weaving by women on the upright loom but aside from a few migrants from Ilorin had no tradition of narrow strip weaving. It is likely that Obamadesara learnt to weave elsewhere in Nigeria and adapted his innovative cloths based on this as yet undiscovered tradition.


According to an article about him by a Nigerian academic, Dr Tunde Akinwumi, he was the only person to weave in this way and had no apprentices (I can supply reference etc if requested.) The article also suggests that he wove under 30 pieces in total. This cloth is the only one I know of with this complex check design, more typically they have a distinctive border along one edge as in the cloth shown on page 50 of John Gillow "African Textiles" (2003). Obamadesara's work is represented in museum collections by two cloths that we sourced, one now in the Musee du Quai Branly, Paris and the other in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This example uses hand spun thread throughout, is hand sewn, complete, and is in excellent condition, with minor fraying at one selvedge. Measurements: 66 ins x 39, 168 cm x 89.

Click on the photos to enlarge. More details on our gallery here.

Friday, 5 July 2013

le Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers de l’Élégance (CAMEE) – new permanent exhibition space at St. Louis, Senegal.





Opened in January 2013 under the guidance of Mai Diop, the CAMEE centre is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the unique African textile heritage of the region. More details here.