Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Global Patterns: Dress and Textiles in Africa (Boston 2011)

I recently went to Boston, where I had the opportunity to catch a couple of great exhibits. In this post, I will concentrate on the “Global Patterns: Dress and Textiles in Africa exhibit. “The exhibition highlights continuities, innovation, and the exchange of ideas from within and without that characterize dress and textile production in Africa. Part of the exhibit focuses on just a few traditions: indigo resist dyed “adire” cloths from Nigeria, intricately strip-woven “kente” cloths from Ghana, and beaded attire of the Yoruba peoples in Nigeria and the Xhosa and Ndebele peoples in South Africa. Other sections of the show briefly explore African adaptations of European dress and the melding of African styles and global fashions.” It is available for viewing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until January 8, 2012. It is a small exhibit but one worth viewing. Here is a little taste of the exhibit. (It is hard to get the true feel of the intricasy of the designs unless you can see these picture a little closer. Remember, you can click on the pic and click again to get a real close up.)
This is a bridal ensemble from the 20th century.” It is made of wool and cotton twill blanket, glass beads, cotton thread, cotton canvas, brass, and leather. “Ndebele brides’ beaded attire includes a richly embroidered blanket; a bridal apron; a beaded veil; a neck ornament; neck, arm, and leg rings; and a distinctive train. On their wedding day, brides receive a grass broom with a beaded handle, alluding to their new domestic duties. In older works, such as the train, white beads predominate and geometric motifs are delicate.”
This is a neck ring from the mid-20th century. It is made of glass beads, straw, thread, and metal tacks. “Among the Ndebele, big neck ornaments are characteristic elements of young unmarried women’s ceremonial attire. They consist of straw rings covered with strands of beads. After marriage, copper or brass neck rings replace them, indicating a woman’s new status.”

“Glass beads of European manufacture first arrived in Africa during the sixteenth century, in exchange for gold, slaves, ivory, and other raw materials. Among them were so-called seed beads, which became an important artistic medium, and fostered dynamic changes in fashion.”
This is a cape for a member of the Ogboni society from the mid-20th century. It is made of cloth, glass beads, and three iron attachment rings. “When a male member of the Ogboni secret society wore the cape, a rod was inserted into the top cloth to hold it in place. The Ogboni assembled important townsmen who protected the community by dealing with conflicts that threatened its well-being.”
This is an Ifa diviner’s necklace (ikolaba ifa) from the mid-20th century. It is made of locally woven cloth, glass beads, thread crystals, and nuts. “For the Yoruba, Ifa divination helps individuals—whether commoner or king—gain understanding of the forces that affect their lives. Ifa priests receive years of instruction from older priests, learning to interpret signs and master Ifa’s vast oral literature. When they become persons of wisdom, they are allowed to wear beaded necklaces such as this one.”
This woman’s ceremonial skirt (ntchakabwiin) is from the early 20th century. It is made of raffia plain weave and is embroidered with raffia. The Kuba women embroider plain raffia cloth with loops and cut the stitches to create a velvety pile surface. Their freehand patterns do not rigidly repeat design elements, as necessitated by mechanized looms and printing devices used in Western textile production. Rather, they vary shapes interrupt lines, and combine sharply differing units. This freedom appealed to early-twentieth-century European and American textile designers. They appropriated Kuba patterns, a trend that continues to this day.

I have a few more things to show you from this exhibit. Stay tuned.


Robbie said...

Thanks for the tour! I feel like I was listening to the tour guide as I looked at pictures and read your post! Thanks so much for sharing these unique pieces of art!

Lis said...

What a wonderful exhibition, thank you for sharing it. I thought it was in Boston, England for a moment and got very excited!