Thursday, 15 August 2013

Revisiting some exceptional Bondoukou textiles from Ivory Coast.


Agnibilécro - Kangah, Chef Agnis. Postcard photographed by G. Kante, circa 1920. The seated ruler wears a Bondoukou style cloth. Author's collection.

This post features an important and very rare group of cloths from the north eastern part of Cote D'Ivoire, around the town of Bondoukou. Stylistically and historically related to the well known Ewe and Asante cloths of Ghana these distinctive early C20th cloths are previously undocumented and not represented in museum collections (except a few we have sourced in recent years.) They represented an important stylistic and historical link between the textiles of Mali and Ivory Coast and those of Ghana. The area we found these cloths is sparsely populated and it would appear that most existing examples have now been collected. For more information please see my article on Bondoukou cloths from Hali magazine, 2008, now online here.


fr473 - One of a very small number of museum quality Bondoukou men's cloths that we have collected over recent years, 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. More details here.


fr479 - This rare men's hand spun cotton wrapper cloth illustrates a style of weaving in the Bondoukou area with simple, almost rustic, geometric weft float motifs bordered by weft faced blocks in bold simple colours. Very few complete man's cloths with this degree of pattern have been collected and this example is in great condition, with a single small patch on a worn edge. Dates from about 1950. More details here.


fr474 - Superb men's hand spun indigo-dyed cotton ground wrapper cloth collected in a village in the vicinity of Bondoukou in northeast Côte D'Ivoire. One of the finest of the small number of top cloths from this area we collected in 2006 and 2007 when these textiles first began to become available. This exceptional piece was published full page in Hali #157, Autumn 2008. Regular lines of colour across the cloth are created by weft faced bands on alternate strips that are joined by narrower pairs of weft stripes on the other strips. At the centre the design is expanded into a row of complete pattern blocks in which weft faced bands frame supplementary weft float motifs. These motifs, which differ in form from Ghanaian styles, include two animals. The layout of pattern in bands across the field of the cloth separated by undecorated areas is a design that would not occur on Ewe or Asante weaving. More details here.


fr502 - Superb early example of man's wrapper cloth from the Bondoukou region. Illustrates two of the distinctive aspects of pattern layout within this tradition that differ from those of the Asante and Ewe in Ghana, namely a focus on the centre of the fabric and an alignment of patterns in rows down the cloth (rather than the chequerboard type layout typical in Ghana.) This exceptionally fine piece appears to be among the earliest we have seen from the Bondoukou area. Woven with a hand spun indigo dyed cotton background with very subtle balance of warp and weft stripes. More details here.

Click on the photos to enlarge. For more of our collection please visit our gallery online here.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

“Equatorial”–Selvedge magazine focuses on Africa


The July/August issue of Selvedge has the beautiful cover image shown above and the inspiring cover line “Equatorial: Circling the globe to find fine textiles.” Africa is a particular focus of the issue, with an extended feature on Cape Verde weaving by academics Clifford Pereira and Neil Williams, illustrated by some images I supplied, including the “panos d’obra” cloth below.


Others in an eclectic selection look at the colours of Senegal, the production of plastic mats, and a project to make designer hats in Uganda.




Selvedge magazine may be ordered here.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ivory Coast Chiefs: some images from the Smithsonian Elisofon Archives


Baule dignitary N'Goran Koffi with his linguist and elders, Kouassiblekro, Ivory Coast, Baule dignitary N'Goran Koffi with his linguist and elders, Kouassiblekro, Ivory Coast, Eliot Elisofon Field photographs, 1942-1972 [slide].eepa_01519.jpg (1230×840)


Kyaman chiefs and notables, Anna village, Ivory Coast, [slide]. Contained in: Eliot Elisofon Field photographs, 1942-1972 The photograph depicts Ebrie (now Kyaman) dignitaries wearing prestige clothes and regalias. .eepa_01546.jpg (1230×840)



Dan men wearing hat called tarboosh, Man region, Ivory Coast.The photograph depicts three men wearing black and white robes of locally woven cloth. Their red hats, Tarboosh, are similar to those worn by other Moslems further north. This photograph was taken when Eliot Elisofon was on assignment for Westinghouse Film and traveled to Africa from October 26, 1970 to end of March 1971. eepa_02708.jpg (840×1230)

Click on the photos to enlarge. For many more please explore at the Smithsonian Eliot Elisofon Archives here.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Cloth of the month: A unique wool cloth from Mali.


On my recent visit to Ghana I was pleased to find this remarkable wool and cotton cloth from Mali, collected by one of my contacts from the chief of a small village in the north west of the country.  Itinerant traders from Mali have been selling cloths in Ghana and neighbouring countries for at least 500 years so the presence of this cloth was not too surprising in itself. Wool blankets from Mali have become an accepted part of the court regalia of many Ghanaian chiefs, used for a variety of purposes including lining ceremonial hammocks and palanquins, covering royal drums, and just as a backdrop for displays of the royal treasures.

The surprising, and to my knowledge, unique aspect of this particular cloth is the design and layout. Made up of 14 strips of approximately 3 1/2 inch width (9cm), squares of indigo blue dyed wool alternate with squares of white handspun cotton, serving as a backdrop for quite complex patterning in natural brown dyed wool executed using a tapestry weaving technique, these strips would normally have been laid out in a much more regular fashion to form a far larger cloth, called an arkilla jenngo.


Arkilla jenngo were, according to Bernhard Gardi, woven in the area west of Tomboutou near Lake Faguibine by Songhay-speaking weavers, primarily working for Tuareg patrons. Interestingly he notes that according to his informants this type of wool blanket was not traded to Ghana. They were used as highly prestigious tent hangings for high status weddings.


Photo above by Harald Widmer, January 1952. The names given to the motifs “reflect the significance that weddings and bride wealth have in social life: we have for example,  ‘cushion’,  ‘bedposts’, ‘money’, ‘board game’, ‘leather fringe’, or ‘calabash’. (Gardi 2009.)


Turning back to our cloth we can now see that the standard strips woven for an arkilla jenngo have been put together in a different and unexpected way, with the regular layout of the traditional form replaced by an apparently random placement creating an “offbeat” staggered overlap and contrast between each strip and an overall dynamic oscillation across the cloth.  How can we tell that this was a deliberate effect and not just the random result of a partial or damaged arkilla being re-purposed by someone unfamiliar with the tradition ?

If we look at the ends of the cloth we see that it was carefully finished with a braided wool cord making up a series of tassels. This was the normal technique in Mali for finishing a smaller type of wool blanket known as a kaasa, and clearly shows that this cloth was assembled by someone working within that tradition. So we can only speculate on why this novel layout was adopted and it remains a mystery.