Friday, 27 September 2013

New Article: “The Shape of Fashion–the Historic Silk Brocades (akotifahana) of Highland Madagascar” by Sarah Fee


The latest issue of African Arts magazine (Volume 46 Number 3 Autumn 2013) has an important article by Sarah Fee of the Royal Ontario Museum that explores in considerable detail the splendid brocaded silk cloths of the Merina in nineteenth century Madagascar that inspired the 1990s revival and the recent well publicised spider silk cloth travelling exhibit.


(Merina, late 19th century. Bombyx silk, natural and synthetic dyes, supplementary wefts; 231cm x 180cm. Royal Ontario Museum ROM2010.75.1)

Drawing on both her extensive field research and a deep knowledge of archival sources Fee is able to situate this tradition in the wider context of both regional textile history and changing Merina society at the onset of colonial intervention. She argues that brocaded silk cloths rather than being a royal tradition with symbolic imagery deeply imbedded in Merina culture were a “short-lived elite innovative dress fashion” with only indirect royal patronage and that motifs were decorative and at first subordinate to an interest in striping. External influences were a major factor and of these it was the wider Indian Ocean trade networks, and in particular the import of Omani textiles that were predominant.


(Cotton and silk striped mantle (arindrano) with brocaded borders, Merina, c.1882. Dresden Ethnographic Museum 19106)


(Merina, c. 1858-63, Borocera silk, natural dyes, metal beads, Royal ontario Museum, ROM 947.1.6)

The cloth above represents a rare type within an older tradition based on indigenous wild silk thread. Covered in tin or silver beads, these high value cloths called mandiavola were associated with maturity, authority, nobility, ancestors, and the creator spirit himself.

African Arts magazine is available here.

Friday, 20 September 2013

“Dyeing cotton in indigo, 1946. Igbomina Yoruba, Nigeria.”


The British Museum’s online catalogue has recently been revamped with a much more intuitive and user friendly search procedure that allows rapid access to much of their vast collections, including their photography holdings. A recent browse turned up this fine image of a Yoruba woman indigo dyer at work in the small town of Omu Aran east of Ilorin. This was once a major centre of Igbomina Yoruba women’s weaving and the photograph shows skeins of dyed thread hanging up to dry in the background. It was taken in 1946. Museum reference number is Af,B61.8. The photographer is not listed. Image copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.

Click on the image to enlarge. Visit the British Museum collections database here.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

“Traditional headdresses, banned by Islamist group, return to Mali”–a great photostory from the Baltimore Sun

“Issues surrounding women’s rights and the treatment of women received special attention around the globe during International Women’s Day on March 8. To commemorate the occasion, Reuters photographer Joe Penney documented traditional headdresses worn by the women of Gao in Mali.

Radical Islamist group MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) placed limitations on these headdresses during their nine-month reign, which ended in January with the arrival of French and Malian troops. The headdresses, made of beads, gemstones, fabric and fake hair and traditionally worn by elites for special occasions, were criticized by MUJAO, who said they were not Islamic enough.” Source. Photos by Joe Penney.


Balkissa Maiga, 17, wears a traditional Songhai headdress made by artisan Hally Bara in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters Photo)


Hally Bara, an artisan, poses for a picture in front of traditional Songhai and Tuareg headdresses and jewelry she made at the store in her house in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters Photo)


Aminata Toure, 10, wears a traditional Songhai headdress made by artisan Hally Bara in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters)


Fady DIcko, 14, wears a traditional Tuareg headdress made by artisan Hally Bara in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters)


Fatoumata Toure, 15, wears a traditional Songhai headdress made by artisan Hally Bara in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

More photos here.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Asantehene Prempeh II



The Asante king Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II (ruled 1931-1970)

The Asantehene Prempeh I


Quite a rare image of the King of the Asante, the Asantehene Prempeh I, (ruled 1888 – 1931) accompanied by the Queenmother. 

Cloth of the month: A superb rayon Asante kente


K243 - This huge and elaborate cloth is a superb example of the highest quality of Asante kente weaving dating from around 1960, woven from rayon rather than silk. If most rayon kente cloths are in my view rather banal low quality designs hastily woven in repetitive standard patterns this one is a dramatic exception. Senior Asante kings were by long tradition expected to wear new and spectacular cloths at important ceremonial occasions throughout the year, and it was informed and critical patronage by these kings and senior chiefs that stimulated the continual refinement and elaboration of kente cloth design throughout the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century. However by the time this cloth was woven, which I would estimate to be in the 1960s, such informed patronage was very much an exception and as a result very few cloths of this standard were woven.


We can see that the weaver has paid careful attention both to the overall design structure of the cloth (through careful control of layout, borders, and undecorated blocks) and to pattern variation within the decorated sections. The only other rayon kente that I am aware of with similar qualities is in the collection of the Field Museum in Chicago and was shown on the cover of the exhibition catalogue Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity (edited by Doran Ross, Fowler Museum Los Angeles, 1998.) This cloth belonged to and was presumably worn by one of the most senior Asante kings. Condition excellent, complete with no stains, repairs. Age estimated circa 1960. Measurements: 143 ins x 87, 364cm x 222cm.


Click on the photos to enlarge. For more Asante kente on our updated gallery click here.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Three African textile related US exhibitions now on…


Saturated: Dye-Decorated Cloths from North and West Africa

Dallas Museum of Art
August 16, 2013-Summer 2014 | Level 3

“Saturated: Dye-Decorated Cloths from North and West Africa focuses on and celebrates the dyer’s art from North and West Africa, including the countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Drawn primarily from the DMA’s collection, this exhibition presents eleven dye-decorated cloths produced by traditional techniques and worn as garments or accessories. Before the introduction of European manufactured printed textiles to Africa in the 19th century, textile designs were made with natural dyes on plain homespun cotton, wool, raffia, or other materials. Women were most often the dyers, and dye-decorated cloth was a major form of feminine artistic expression.” Details and more images here.

Africa Wrapped, Robed, and Beaded

Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, May 25, 2013–Sunday, October 6, 2013 : Gallery 137


“Dress is among the most personal forms of visual expression, creating a buffer and a bridge between the private and the public self and acting as a highly visible indicator of an individual’s current position or future aspirations. All of the status-related aspects of personal dress—the plentiful use of sumptuous materials, the showcasing of labor-intensive details, and the sacrifice of comfort for a display of luxury—play a part in the conspicuous presentation of social identity. Special forms of luxury dress may be related to position, prestige, or wealth. They may also signal particular standing within a community or a moment of transition from one role to another. Such garments often exhibit exceptional design and craftsmanship. They are also frequently cumbersome to wear, requiring practiced showmanship to don with grace.

This special presentation of works in the Art Institute’s permanent collection highlights six forms of status dress from Africa. Each wrapped, robed, or beaded example features a lavish use of materials that emphasize status through dazzling display.”

African Interweave: Textiles Diasporas

Currier Museum of Art, Manchester NH

Sept. 28, 2013 — Jan. 12, 2014


“Featuring more than 40 textiles, garments and other works of art, this exhibition offers the opportunity to experience the aesthetic power and rich cultural histories of textiles produced across the continent of Africa. Whether used for everyday functions, high fashion, costumes or sacred rituals, the textiles featured in this exhibition highlight the diverse influences that continue to shape these vibrant art forms, including the regional and global exchange of ideas, techniques and materials.

This exhibition is organized by the Harn Museum of Art.”

There is a catalogue for “African Interweave” published by the Harn Museum, Florida, that is worth tracking down, but as far as I know no catalogue for the other two. If anyone wants to send me photos any of these exhibits I’d be happy to post them.