Tuesday, 8 December 2015

An Indigo Strip Weave Robe from Togo


AGB114 - Much prized by lovers of indigo, these smock-like robes were worn by hunters and other senior men in the forested central and northern regions of the Benin Republic and Togo. A rare image of one being worn by the Paramount Chief of the Cabrais (today Kabiye or Kabye) prople, circa 1930, is shown below.


Hand-tailored from three different patterned indigo hand spun cotton thread strip weaves with a plain indigo in a lighter shade lining the shoulders and hem. Ten years or so ago there were quite a few of these around in Accra but more recently they have become rather scarce in acceptable condition and prices for rare unpatched and unstained examples as good as this have risen accordingly.


Condition: excellent. Age: first half of C20th. Measures: approx. 43 inches x 57, 110cm x 145.

Click on the photos to enlarge. To see this and other robes we have for sale click here.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Kongo: Power and Majesty–the blog

Some especially interesting comments on textile use by the eminent historian Phyllis M.Martin.


“Kristen Windmuller-Luna: In your essay in the exhibition catalogue, you write extensively about cloth's role in the Loango economy. How did that system function?

Phyllis M. Martin: We have to consider that cloth is a way of storing value. Cloth was also an essential ingredient in society and culture. It was not just a piece of fabric with wonderful weaving and designs; it was much more than that. When the Dutch arrived around 1600, they talk about how the king—the Maloango—had warehouses and storehouses bursting with cloths, copper, and ivory.

And so you ask, "Why cloth?" Cloth has many advantages, and we can think of it functioning like a currency; a currency needs to be portable, it needs to be durable, and preferably it needs to be locally produced. The region was described in one late sixteenth-century source as "the land of palms," which was important because raffia palm trees provided the raw materials which weavers then made into threads to create these textiles.

Kristen Windmuller-Luna: Where would the textiles included in the exhibition, which are all luxury items, have fit into the Loango economy?

Phyllis M. Martin: The Maloango and other wealthy and powerful persons controlled the production of cloth. There were certain gradations according to the labor and creativity involved in their production. The Maloango had control over master weavers, and only they were allowed to produce these incredibly high-value, beautiful pieces. There were four or five gradations of fabric, and commoners would wear very simple cloth. When you're exchanging goods, obviously, this kind of luxury cloth is very high value, so it could be used as a currency—it's like a one- or ten- or a hundred-dollar bill. Several could be used together to vary the value in an exchange. A common person might be wearing just a very basic weave—no colors, no design. In our society we also measure people by the clothes that they're wearing; it's of course much of the same thing. There are many commonalities with European society when you stop to think, especially at this time [the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries].”

excerpted from:

The Visual Archive: A Historian's Perspective on Kongo and Loango Art

Kristen Windmuller-Luna, 2015–16 Sylvan C. Coleman and Pamela Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and Phyllis M. Martin, Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University Bloomington

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Cloth of the month: A rare variant form of Asante adinkra.


ADK071 -   This is the best example I have seen of a very rare variant of woven ground adinkra cloth, as distinct from typical adinkra that is hand stamped  onto machine woven imported fabric.  This type of cloth usually only has two stamped motifs in alternation, and is usually on an orange and red ground, so a white and black ground example such as this with four different motifs is exceptional. The background cloth is composed of an alternation of two different woven strips - the first is plain black and only 5 cm in width, while the second is much wider at 16cm and white with black weft stripes at regular intervals.


Combining the two creates the grid of black squares that frame the stamped motifs. See my recent book: African Textiles: The Karun Thakar Collection (Prestel 2015) for a similar ground cloth with only two motifs.           
In excellent condition. Dates from early to mid C20th. Measurement: 135 ins x 94, 344 cm x 239.  PRICE: Email for price


For more recent acquisitions visit our gallery here.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

"Made of Straw of Rare Beauty": Kongo Textiles in Renaissance European Collections


Interesting blog post on the Kongo textiles at the Met exhibition by British Museum curator Dora Thornton here

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A Jukun court official, Wukari, Nigeria


Rare view of  a Jukun court official in his elaborate strip woven cloth. Date and photographer unknown. Source: @artnewsafrica

Thursday, 15 October 2015

African Textiles: the Karun Thakar Collection


My new book, out now. African Textiles: the Karun Thakar Collection, (Prestel), available now from good bookstores and the usual sources. Main texts and captions are by me, brief foreword by Bernhard Gardi, text in the North Africa section by Dr Miriam Ali-de-Unzaga, and an introduction to his collecting experiences by Karun Thakar. The book is a substantial (320 page) introduction to one of the largest and most important collections of African textiles, with particular strength in West Africa and a number of previously unpublished styles illustrated.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Indigo Details


Mossi strip weave, Burkina Faso.


Yoruba stitch-resist adire, Nigeria, 1960s.


Strip weave, Niger, mid C20th.


Hausa strip weaves, Nigeria, circa 1970.


Yoruba strip weave aso oke, Nigeria, early C20th.


Yoruba strip weave aso oke, Nigeria, early C20th.


Yoruba starch resist adire eleko, Nigeria, circa 1960s.


Hausa stitch resist, Nigeria, circa 1970.


Efik stitch resist, Nigeria, mid C20th.

Please visit our website to view our selection of indigo cloths.

Exhibition: “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” at the British Library.


An exhibition of literature and music – from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today

Fascinating stories from the region’s 17 nations show how West Africans have harnessed the power of words to build societies, drive political movements, sustain religious belief and fight injustice.

Beautiful manuscripts, historic film and sound recordings, books, photographs, and woven and printed textiles offer a unique insight into a profound and engaging literary culture with centuries-old written heritage existing alongside ancient oral traditions.

Hear the myth of the founding of ancient Mali in recorded performance. See the influence of religion through colourful fabric and the saddlebag Qur’an. Celebrate writers and artists including Africa’s first Nobel prize winner, Wole Soyinka, and internationally acclaimed musician and human rights activist Fela Kuti.

- See more at: http://www.bl.uk/events/west-africa-word-symbol-song#sthash.SVnDNyAJ.dpuf

Friday, 2 October 2015

Asante Silk Kente Cloths

While run of the mill Asante kente cloths woven from rayon thread and mostly dating from the 1970s and after are easy to find, top quality silk cloths woven in the early part of the twentieth century are extremely rare and becoming increasingly difficult to source. The images below show a glimpse of some or our current inventory. Full views and more details on our site at adireafricantextiles.com







Saturday, 26 September 2015

An exceptional silk and cotton Yoruba wrapper.



NW513 -Fine and rare Yoruba women's wrapper cloth dating from late C19th or early C20th with an exceptionally complex and subtle array of warp stripes incorporating magenta trans-Saharan silk "alaari" in an indigo dyed hand spun cotton ground. Unlike strip woven aso oke produced by male weavers, these cloths were woven in two wide panels on an upright single heddle loom by a woman weaver. The use of silk in these women's weave wrappers was an established tradition in the C19th and at the start of the C20th, allowing wealthy women to outshine the plainer blue and white style.


However today it is extremely hard to find surviving examples and almost all those we do see have been patched or repaired. These cloths are not well represented in museum collections and published sources, reflecting their rarity but one piece collected before 1890 and now in the American Museum of Natural History, New York may be seen here. This is a particularly fine completely intact example in excellent condition and with an unusually elaborate configuration of stripes. It would have been an heirloom cloth passed down from mother to daughter over several generations. It retains it's very neat hand stitched seams throughout. Measurements: 78ins x 66ins, 200cm x 168cm





Click on the photos to enlarge.‘ To see this cloth and others in our online gallery of Nigerian women’s weaving click here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Exhibition:- “Seeing Red: World Textiles” in Bloomington, Indiana

005a_6062 Seeing Red- World Textiles 9-2015

Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, Bloomington, Indiana August 28 to September 26, 2015

“This September 2015 Lotus Arts and Education Foundation in conjunction with Ivy Tech John Waldron Gallery will present an exhibition of rare and unusual textiles featuring the color red. “Seeing Red: World Textiles” features over forty hand woven and constructed textiles dating from Egyptian to modern times. Seven Indiana collectors -- Suzanne Halvorson, Joan Hart, William Itter, Barbara Livesey, Harold Mailand, and George Malacinski, met this past February to review and select textiles from their collections composed of every shade of red. All of the textiles revealed that red can be a dominant color that shapes and defines a textile’s ingenious construction and cultural prominence. Not only is red a color of great optical range, it is a color of many personal, emotional, and theoretical meanings. This exhibit ventures to explore the diversity of red and its identity as a beautiful color. This exhibit opens Friday, August 28th, and concludes Saturday, September 26th, the weekend of Lotus World Music and Arts Festival (see: lotusfest.org).”

002a_6055 Seeing Red- World Textiles 9-2015

001_6102 Seeing Red- World Textiles 9-2015

004a_6060 Seeing Red- World Textiles 9-2015

008b_6080 Seeing Red- World Textiles 9-2015

011c_6085 Huari Seeing Red- World Textiles 9-2015

Click on the photos to enlarge. All photos © William Itter.

Please don’t share without permission.

Friday, 18 September 2015

“Kongo: Power and Majesty” at the Met.

I already mentioned the show but this important exhibition really is a unique, once in a lifetime, opportunity to view many of the earliest surviving African textiles, drawn together from numerous  museum collections across Europe. A few years ago I went all the way to Ulm to see the cloth below (okay and a couple of others.) Don’t miss it !


Date: 16th–17th century, inventoried 1659

Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Angola; Republic of the Congo Culture: Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom Medium: Raffia Dimensions: L. 75 9/16 in. (192 cm), H. 59 7/16 in (151 cm) [excluding 5 1/2 in (14 cm) perimeter fringe ] Classification: Textiles-Woven Credit Line: Kunst- und Wunderkammer des Christoph Weickmann, Ulmer Museum, Ulm, Germany

Note that this astonishingly fine cloth above is almost two metres square – looking at the photos it is too easy to visualize it as the small Kuba squares that we are so familiar with.



Luxury Cloth: Cushion Cover

Date: 17th–18th century, inventoried 1737. Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Angola; Republic of the Congo Culture: Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom. Medium: Raffia Dimensions: 21 1/4 in. (54 cm) × 21 1/4 in. (54 cm)Classification: Textiles-Woven Credit Line: Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen


Prestige Cap (Mpu)

Date: 16th–17th century, inventoried 1674 Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Angola; Republic of the Congo Culture: Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom Medium: Raffia or pineapple fiber Dimensions: H. 7 1/8 (18 cm), Diam. 5 7/8 in. (15 cm) Classification: Textiles-Non-Woven Credit Line: Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen



Prestige Cap (Mpu)

Date: 17th–18th century, inventoried 1876  Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Republic of the Congo; Angola Culture: Kongo peoples Medium: Raffia or pineapple fiber Dimensions: H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm), Diam. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm) Classification: Textiles-Non-Woven Credit Line: MIBACT-–Polo Museale del Lazio, Museo Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini, Rome



Garment (Nkutu)

Date: 19th century, inventoried 1853 Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Angola; Republic of the Congo Culture: Kongo peoples Medium: Raffia. Dimensions: 31 1/8 × 49 1/4 in. (79 × 125 cm) Classification: Textiles-Costumes Credit Line: British Museum, London



Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Cloth of the month: A fine blue and white Asante kente.


K260 - Exceptional Asante mixed strip blue and white cotton kente cloth. Composed of four repeats of six different strip patterns, this cloth is notable both for the fine quality of the weaving and for the addition of borders (a feature not usually found on Asante blue and white cloths of this type.) The interaction between the blue extra weft float motifs that make up the border and the different blue and white patterns beneath makes a subtle and interesting visual impact. In excellent complete condition. Dates from early to mid C20th. Measurement: 127 ins x 75, 323 cm x 190.


Click on the photos to enlarge. See this cloth on our New Acquisitions Gallery or visit our Asante Kente Gallery

Thursday, 27 August 2015

“Kongo: Power and Majesty” at the Met Museum



Power and Majesty

September 18, 2015–January 3, 2016

“Central Africa's Kongo civilization is responsible for one of the world's greatest artistic traditions. This international loan exhibition will explore the region's history and culture through 134 of the most inspired creations of Kongo masters from the sixteenth through the early twentieth century.

The earliest of these creations were diplomatic missives sent by Kongo sovereigns to their European counterparts during the Age of Exploration; they took the form of delicately carved ivories and finely woven raffia cloths embellished with abstract geometric patterns. Admired as marvels of human ingenuity, such Kongo works were preserved in princely EuropeanKunstkammer, or cabinets of curiosities, alongside other precious and exotic creations from across the globe.

Kongo luxury arts from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century—many of which have never been exhibited before—will give an unprecedented historical backdrop to the outstanding work produced by master sculptors active in the same region during the nineteenth century. The array of figurative representations they produced range from miniature ivory finials for the staffs of office of Kongo leaders to the carved-wood commemorative shrine figures positioned above their burial sites.

The presentation will culminate with a gathering of fifteen monumental Mangaaka power figures produced in the Chiloango River region during the second half of the nineteenth century; these will include the celebrated example acquired by the Met in 2008, the original catalyst for the exhibition. For the first time, this electrifying form of expression will be understood as a defensive measure conceived by Kongo leaders to deflect Western incursions into this region of Central Africa.

With works drawn from sixty institutional and private lenders across Europe and the United States, Kongo: Power and Majesty will relate the objects on view to specific historical developments and will challenge misconceptions of Africa's relationship with the West. In doing so, it will offer a radical, new understanding of Kongo art over the last five hundred years.”

This important exhibition will bring together an unprecedented number of the earliest surviving Central African textiles, dating from the 16th to 18th centuries, from European collections, including the pieces from Ulm Museum, Germany and the the Kungliga Samlingarna, Sweden, shown below.


Luxury Cloth. Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, or Angola, 16th–17th century, inventoried 1659. Raffia, H. 755⁄8 in. (192 cm), W. 591⁄2 in. (151 cm), L. of fringe 51⁄2 in. (14 cm). Kunst- und Wunderkammer des Christoph Weickmann, Ulmer Museum, Ulm, Germany (AV D. 48)


Luxury Cloth: Cushion Cover. Kongo peoples; Kongo Kingdom, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, or Angola, 16th–17th century, inventoried 1670. Raffia, 191⁄4 × 197⁄8 in. (49 × 50.5 cm). Kungliga Samlingarna, Sweden (HGK, Tx I, 164)