Thursday, 7 August 2014

African Textiles in Close Up #3: an iconic Ewe cloth.


One of the highlights of my visit to the British Museum’s textile store at Blyth House a few months back was the opportunity to handle and examine one of the most important and well known of the Ewe kente cloths in the museum collection. This cotton and silk Ewe cloth [British Museum number Af1934,0307.165 ] is the most elaborate of a group apparently assembled at the Ewe coastal town of Keta [then called Quittah by European sources] in the later decades of the nineteenth century by the Anglo-German merchant Charles Beving and donated to the museum in 1934.


It was published, among other places, on the cover of the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition catalogue The Essential Art of African Textiles (Alisa LaGamma and Christine Giuntini, 2009.)  Taking the cloth as a whole we can note the irregular, so-called “offbeat” arrangement of pattern blocks that seems to be a feature of the layout some early Ewe and Asante kente cloths that would be abandoned in the twentieth century in favour of more ordered design arrangements (however we should also note that other nineteenth century kente already observe these ordered layouts so there was no simple direction of change.)  Here though my interest is not with the overall layout but with the pattern blocks, in which three weft-faced bands frame two warp faced sections , decorated in most cases with supplementary weft float motifs.


These float motifs are simple geometric patterns rather than the more elaborate figurative designs found on some Ewe kente. In this post we show twenty of these pattern blocks in which a master weavers explores the variations made possible within quite simple technical parameters. Note the use of plied thread of two colours (yellow and red) in some weft-faced stripes below.


In the pattern below the weaver also uses weft stripes in the warp faced areas (as opposed to weft-faced stripes.)


















Friday, 1 August 2014

New Exhibition: “Yards of Style, African-Print Cloths of Ghana” at the Fowler Museum, UCLA


Fowler in Focus: Yards of Style, African-Print Cloths of Ghana
Aug 24–Dec 14, 2014
”The larger markets in West Africa offer everything from foodstuffs to scrap metal to used clothing—and they also boast hundreds and hundreds of stalls filled with printed cloth. With some vendors selling just a few cloths and others featuring enormous stacks of six- and twelve-yard panels, these markets offer something for everyone. Ubiquitous throughout urban and rural Africa as garments and head wraps, African-print cloths are also popping up on fashion show runways and in retail fashion catalogs in the United States and Europe.

African market vendors may carry cloths made in Holland, Ghana and other West African nations, as well as China, assuring a wide choice of prices and styles that will cater to their diverse customer base. The vibrant visual imagery on the textiles is equally varied, from everyday items like car keys, neckties, clothespins, electric fans, and cell phones, to chiefly swords and royal regalia, to the likenesses of world leaders and sports celebrities (Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Muhammad Ali, to name just a few!). As such, these double-sided, factory-produced cloths communicate messages about individual and community values, reveal perspectives on taste and fashion, and offer telling insights into the global economy.

This exhibition is curated by Betsy D. Quick, Director of Education and Curatorial Affairs, Fowler Museum at UCLA, with Suzanne Gott, Art History and Visual Culture, Department of Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan.”