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African Textiles Educator Guide




INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART
2006

Table of Contents


  1. African Textiles Educator Guide Introduction 3




  1. Image Handouts 4




  1. African Textiles General Information 8




  1. Glossary 10




  1. Activities (For all grades) 11

Cultural Introduction

Kente Cloth

Adinkra Cloth

Bogolanfini: Bamana mud-cloth




  1. Advanced Activities (For grades 6-12) 29

Raffia Kuba


  1. Bibliography 32




  1. Additional Resources 33


African Textiles Educator Guide Introduction

Using This Educator Guide

This teaching resource was created to help you introduce students of all ages to the processes used to create a variety of African textiles. Keep in mind that these methods represent a variety of geographic locations and peoples, but it is not inclusive due to the breadth and diversity of textiles in Africa. This resource introduces only a selected sampling.


The IMA also offers many other opportunities to learn about African art. Visit the museum for a tour of the galleries or visit the Cycles: African Life Through Art online activity on our website (www.imamuseum.org).

Helpful Hints

    • Use this guide to assist you in lesson planning.

    • Activities are given grade level recommendations and have appropriate standards listed for each one.

    • Each activity has an estimated amount of time needed to complete it. Activities are generally divided into one or two, 30-minute sessions. The 30-minute format is designed to give you time for pre- and post-activity discussion or prep and clean up for production activities.

    • Images of the African textiles can be printed out in hardcopy and given to students or projected digitally in the classroom (images can be found by typing the accession number into our “Search the Collection” feature on our website (www.imamuseum.org).


Kente Cloth

Asante people, Ghana, Western Africa, cloth, 20th century

Accession Number: 82.15

Adinkra Cloth

Akan people, Ghana, Western Africa, cotton, 20th century


Accession Number: 82.16

Mud Cloth (bogolanfini)

Bamana people, Mali, Western Africa, cotton and mud dye, 20th century

Accession Number: 1988.23

Kuba Cloth

Kuba people, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa, raffia cloth with raffia embroidery, 20th century

Accession Number: 82.62

African Textiles General Information
In this resource you will find examples of textiles that represent a variety of geographic locations and production methods. Each activity includes information related to the cultural significance of the textile and some description of the method used to create it. This reference guide is intended to give an overview of production methods used to create African textiles. Refer to reference materials or the study guide at the end of this booklet for additional information.
Dyed Designs

Tie-Dyeing

Fabric is gathered in sections then tied off using cotton yarn or raffia, or other string then dyed. After the strings are removed, a pattern results in the areas protected by the string.


Similar to the Western method you may be used to seeing, some African textiles are made using this type of technique.
Resist Methods

There are several resist-dyeing methods. The most common are described below.


Stitch Resist - This method of creating patterns on fabric is done by tightly stitching patterns onto cloth before dyeing. This can be completed by hand, in the traditional way, or by machine, which is becoming more prevalent in some areas as demand for textiles increases and economies evolve. The tight stitching often creates linear patterns revealed after dyeing and removal of the string.
Starch Resist – A mixture of natural materials, including starch, is made to create a paste-like substance that can be applied to fabric to create patterns. This mixture is applied with a tool, sometimes by hand, or using a stenciled pattern before the fabric is dyed. When the cloth is submerged in the dye bath, the pigment will not adhere to the parts of the fabric covered in the starch paste. This process results in the final pattern.
Wax Resist – Similar to the starch resist method, wax is applied to the areas of cloth that will create the motif. In Africa, it is common for wax to be used with dyes created from synthetic materials.

Stamped Designs

Adinkra, made in Ghana, is an example of a cloth made using a stamped design. The stamps, usually made out of carved gourds, are used to create decorative symbols to decorate these cloths.





Painted Designs

Some textiles are decorated by hand-painting designs directly onto the fabric. An example of this is mud cloth. Even though it can look like the patterns on these cloths were made using a resist technique, they were actually created by first dyeing the entire cloth to achieve the desired color for the pattern, then painting dark colored mud onto the cloth leaving only the exposed lighter areas that create the pattern.



Tradition vs. Modernization

Something to consider when studying these textiles is their connection to the past and how they relate to the future.


Using natural materials to make pigments and cloth has long been a tradition in African cultures. Similarly, the processes used to create the textiles themselves have been passed from generation to generation and have created specific gender roles in African societies.
As the Western world continues to influence these cultures, many things will change. For example, creating fabrics, patterns and dyes are all tasks assigned by gender in many African cultures, but as time passes different kinds of work become necessary and now men and women are taking on more and varied responsibilities in their households and communities. Additionally, some textiles have become popular exports or objects for tourists and production must increase to keep up with demand. While this phenomenon can have economic advantages, sometimes the time-honored processes are substituted with faster, less expensive methods.
Over time, how will this affect African life and art? Explore this question with your students and enjoy learning about the textiles in this resource!
Glossary
Adinkra Traditional fabric of Ghana, decorated with symbolic designs printed by hand with stamps carved out of gourds.
Appliqué A process of decorating a piece of cloth by sewing a fabric design to a larger backing.
Asante Group of people who live in what is now known as Ghana.
Bamana (BAH-mah-nah) Cultural group living in Mali.
Bogolanfini (BOH-goh-lahn-fee-nee) Mud-dyed cloths of the Bamana people.
Indigo Plant used to create the pigment that results in the blue dye that colors cloth.
Kente Ceremonial woven cloth of the Asante people of Ghana.
Kuba A confederation of peoples centered around the Kasai river area in the Congo.
Raffia A type of palm leaf frequently used to make fiber for textiles and other African objects.
Resist A substance or technique used to prevent dye from coloring areas of fabric.
Strip Woven A textile made up of long, narrow strips of fabric sewn together.
Textiles General term used to identify objects made of cloth or woven material.
Yoruba Large ethnic group living in southwest Nigeria.

Activity 1: Cultural Introduction

Recommended for Grades 4-12

One, 30-minute session
Objective

  • Students will identify the geographic locations corresponding to the textiles being studied.


Indiana Academic Standards met by this activity

Social Studies: K.5.4, 1.5.5, 2.5.3, 2.5.4, 7.5.1, 7.5.2, 7.5.3, 7.5.4, WG.2.1
Supplies

  • Blank Africa map (reproducible copy provided in this guide)

  • Pencils or pens

  • Images of African art from the IMA’s collection—kente cloth, adinkra cloth, mud cloth, raffia cloth (digitally projected or printed out hardcopy)


Introduction

Most of the textiles in this guide come from cultures in West Africa. This activity is intended to help students understand where this geographic area is in relation to them, but also to understand, in a larger sense, that Africa is composed of many different cultural groups defined not only by location, but also by their way of life, language, clothing, art and traditions.


Procedure

  1. Each student should receive a blank map. Below is a list of the textiles included in the guide and their geographic origins:


Textile Location

Kente Ghana

Adinkra Ghana

Bogolanfini Mali

Raffia cloth Democratic Republic of the Congo


  1. Ask students to identify and label the countries where each textile originated. Globes or maps available to the student in the classroom or textbooks may be used to complete this activity.




  1. After locating the objects’ geographic origins, allow students to investigate the textile image examples.




  1. As a group, discuss what can be learned from looking at these images. Examples include types of materials used, patterns, colors, etc. Be sure to relate the textiles to the geographic locations where they originate to reinforce the concept that these textiles are significant in specific African cultures.




Activity 2: Kente Cloth

Recommended for Grades K-12

Two, 30-minute sessions
Objectives

  • Students will understand the basic process of creating a woven textile.

  • Students will examine an African textile and consider its cultural significance.


Indiana Academic Standards met by this activity

Visual Art: K.9.2, 1.1.1,1.9.2, 2.1.1, 2.9.2, 3.1.1, 3.2.1, 3.9.2, 4.2.1, 4.9.2, 5.2.1, 5.9.2, 6.1.1, 6.9.2, 7.1.2, 7.1.3, 7.9.2, 8.2.1, 8.9.2, H.1.2, H.9.1

Social Studies: K.5.4, 1.5.5, 2.5.3, 2.5.4, 7.5.1, 7.5.2, 7.5.3, 7.5.4, S.3.1
Supplies

  • Cardboard weaving supports

  • Yarn or thread

  • Scissors

  • Pencils and scrap paper

  • Images of African art from the IMA’s collection—kente cloth (digitally projected or printed out hardcopy)


Introduction

The kente cloth of the Asante people is perhaps the best-known African textile in the world. The Asante people live in Ghana, a country on the West Coast of Africa. The Asante have produced kente cloth for at least four hundred years. Men weave this famous cloth in long strips that are later sewed together by male tailors to form a large wrapper that can be worn as clothing.


A long time ago, kente cloth was only worn by the Asante king, the Asantehene. He not only controlled how much cloth was made, but also which patterns were used. The Asantehene would hire special weavers to come work in Bonwire (the city that produce the most kente cloth) and create special patterns. These patterns were only known to the Asantehene, so that each of his new wrappers could be the most elaborate and intricate of any robe that had ever existed. Silk thread, which was taken from imported European textiles, was also woven into the mostly cotton kente to make the cloth even more prestigious.
Kente is still popular today, especially in Ghana where it is the national dress. Men, women, and children wear Kente in a variety of patterns, colors, and forms. Each kente pattern has a specific meaning. Some refer to Asante proverbs, while others are connected to individual kings (Asantehenes). Colors are also very important in kente cloth. Gold is a very common color, and it refers to the prosperous Asante kingdom that flourished from its gold trade for hundreds of years. Not only does color and pattern play a significant role in communicating a message in kente cloth, but the way one wears their Kente wrapper can also communicate a certain message. These three things combined transmit a significant message to the Asante community through the wearing of only one cloth. Kente cloth is much more than clothing to the Asante, it is an integral part of their lifestyle.
Researched and written by Olivia Rossebo, 1999
Cole, Herbert M., and Doran H. Ross. The Arts of Ghana. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California Los Angeles, 1977.
Hogarth, Brian. Fabric of African Life: Introducing West African Textiles. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, Education Division, 1995.
Perani, Judith and Fred Smith. The Visual Arts of Africa. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Sieber, Roy. African Textiles and Decorative Arts. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1972.
Spring, Christopher. African Textiles. New York: Crescent Books, 1989.

Procedure

  1. Students can examine the image of the Kente cloth.




  1. Using the background information provided for this activity, discuss with students the cultural significance of the cloth, including why it is worn and how color plays an important role in design.




  1. Using the cardboard weaving supports provided, students can create their own weaving examples. Start by using a spool of white thread. Tie a loop around the top, left notch of the weaving support. Then wrap the thread around the support so that it catches in all the notches at the top and bottom working left to right.




  1. At the end, tie another loop around the last notch at the top or bottom of the support. This will provide the base for the weaving project.




  1. Using colored yarn with younger students, or thread with older students, if you prefer. Start weaving by pushing the yarn (or thread) through the white threaded base in an over-under pattern all the way across the support, working left to right. Once you reach the right side, loop the yarn (or thread) around the last supporting white thread and begin again with the over-under pattern, working right to left until you reach the left side of the cardboard support. Continue weaving until you have reached the desired size, or until you are an inch or two from the top.




  1. As they are weaving, be sure students continue to push the yarn (or thread) down tightly; this will produce a textile sample with tighter weave.




  1. To remove the sample from the cardboard support, cut the white string and tie them off in twos at the top and bottom of the support. Working left to right, only the cut the strings as you need them to tie off, this will help prevent unraveling as the textile is being removed from the support. If there is not much room at the top and bottom, young students may need assistance cutting and tying off.




  1. If it is necessary to stop weaving before the project is complete, ask students to write their names on a scrap sheet of paper and place it between the white support threads and the cardboard.

Activity 3: Adinkra Cloth

Recommended for Grades K-12

One, 30-minute session
Objectives

  • Students will examine the meaning of symbols from West African cultures.

  • Students will create a work of art using symbols to create patterns.


Indiana Academic Standards met by this activity

Visual Art: K.9.2, 1.1.1,1.9.2, 2.1.1, 2.9.2, 3.1.1, 3.2.1, 3.9.2, 4.2.1, 4.9.2, 5.2.1, 5.9.2, 6.1.1, 6.9.2, 7.1.2, 7.1.3, 7.9.2, 8.2.1, 8.9.2, H.1.2, H.9.1

Social Studies: K.5.4, 1.5.5, 2.5.3, 2.5.4, 7.5.1, 7.5.2, 7.5.3, 7.5.4
Supplies

  • Images of African art from the IMA’s collection—Adinkra cloth (digitally projected or printed out hardcopy)

  • Adinkra Symbols sheet

  • Paper

  • Pencils or pens

  • Adinkra Reference Guide



Introduction

The people of Ghana are famous for their large stamped garments known as adinkra cloths. Traditionally theses cloths are worn to funeral celebrations and they are made in dark, somber colors. The word adinkra means “goodbye”, making it appropriate for funerals. Today, much of the adinkra cloth is produced in bright colors. This type of adinkra is called kwasiada, or Sunday cloth, it is not appropriate for funerals, but is worn for festive occasions or even everyday use.


The process of making adinkra cloth begins with the dyeing of the fabric. If a funeral robe is desired, the cloth will be dyed a dark color; but if the artist wishes to make a kwasiada, the color will be light. After the fabric is dyed, it is stretched onto the ground and pegged in place. The stamps used to decorate the cloth are carved out of dried gourds. The dye used with the stamps comes from the bark of a badie tree, which is boiled with iron to make a thick black ink. Before stamping begins, the cloth is divided into several squares or rectangles with parallel lines drawn in between. Within each square of the cloth, a single stamp is repeated until the area is filled. When the cloth is finished, it can never be washed, because the pattern would be lost. If the pattern fades it is possible to have the cloth re-stamped.
Each finished adinkra cloth combines symbols to create a message. Beside the overall message of the whole cloth, each individual stamp has a special meaning. Most stamps are named after natural or man-made things and refer to a saying or proverb. Plants, animals, hairstyles and architecture are some of the themes that are common adinkra stamps. Many traditional stamp designs are over a hundred years old, but many new, modern motifs have been turned into stamps, such as the Mercedes Benz symbol. This change illustrates how the Asante have been able to adapt a traditional art form to their modern lifestyle.
Researched and written by Olivia Rossebo, 1999
Cole, Herbert M., and Doran H. Ross. The Arts of Ghana. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California Los Angeles, 1977.
Hogarth, Brian. Fabric of African Life: Introducing West African Textiles. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, Education Division, 1995.
Perani, Judith and Fred Smith. The Visual Arts of Africa. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Spring, Christopher. African Textiles. New York: Crescent Books, 1989.

Procedure

  1. If desired, students can closely examine the image of the Adinkra cloth again, noting the pattern used as decoration. For younger students, skip to Step #6.




  1. First, using the Adinkra symbol images provided, ask each student to draw at least 3 symbols onto a sheet of paper leaving room to write around each one.




  1. Then, in pencil, ask students to write what they think the symbol means. What can they tell by looking at the symbols?




  1. Ask students to share, in groups, their results and talk about why they came to their specific interpretations. What did they see that led them to these hypotheses?




  1. Next using the Adinkra Reference Guide, go through the African interpretations of the symbols. How did the students observations relate to the traditional meanings? How do students feel about the cultural differences that led to different interpretations?


Adinkra Symbols

























































Adinkra Reference Guide





ANANSE NTONTAN
“Spider’s web”
Wisdom, creativity and the complexities of life
Ananse, the spider, is a well-known character in African folktales.




BI-NKA-BI
“No one should bite the other”
Peace and harmony
This image is based on two fish biting each other tails.



DAME-DAME
Name of a board game.
Intelligence and ingenuity



FUNTUMMIREKU-DENKYEMMIREKU
“Siamese crocodiles”
Democracy, unity in diversity



NSAA
A type of hand-woven fabric
Excellence, genuineness, authenticity



GYE NYAME
“except for God”
supremacy of God, omnipotence and immortality



OSRANE
“moon”
Female qualities of love and kindness



GYAWN ATIKO
Symbol of courage and determination




NYAMEDUA
Perpetual existence, altar or place of worship




KUNTINKANTAN
“do not boast or be arrogant”



SANKOFA (variation)
“return and get it”
Learn from the past, you can always undo mistakes



ADINKRAHENE
“chief of adinkra symbols”
Greatness, charisma, leadership




ANI BRE A ENSO GYA
Patience, self-containment, self-discipline



FIHANKRA
“a house which is safe”
Security, safety



KODEE MOWEREWA or NKOTIMSEFO MPUA
“talons of the eagle”
service, loyalty



MMUSUYIDEE
“that which removes ill luck”
Good fortune and protection



DWENINI MMEN
“ram’s horns”
Humility and strength



MMRA KKRADO
Seal of law and order, authority of the court



AYA
“fern”
Endurance, resourcefulness




NTESIE-MATEMASIE
“I have heard and kept it”
Wisdom and knowledge




KOJO BAIDEN
Cosmos, omnipresence
Combines the rays of the sun, a double crescent moon and an Asante stool



EPA
“handcuffs”
Law, justice, slavery



SUNSUM
Soul, purity and spirituality




OWO FORO ADOBE
“snake climbing the raffia tree”
Steadfastness, prudence, diligence




DUAFE
“wooden comb”
Symbol of beauty and cleanliness; symbols of desirable feminine qualities


Activity 4: Mud-Cloth (bogolanfini)
Recommended for Grades K-12

One, 30-minute session
Objectives

  • Students will examine the meaning of symbols from West African cultures.

  • Students will create a work of art using contemporary symbols from popular culture.


Indiana Academic Standards met by this activity

Visual Art: 1.1.1, 2.1.1, 3.1.1, 3.2.1, 4.2.1, 5.2.1, 6.1.1, 7.1.2, 7.1.3, 8.2.1, H.1.2,

Social Studies: K.5.4, 1.5.5, 2.5.3, 2.5.4, 7.5.1, 7.5.2, 7.5.3, 7.5.4
Supplies

  • Images of African art from the IMA’s collection—mud-cloth (bogolanfini) (digitally projected or printed out hardcopy)

  • Paper (fabric if desired)

  • Pencils or pens


Introduction

The African Bamana art form of bogolanfini is both a style and a medium. The word can be broken down into bogolan meaning "something made by using mud" and fini meaning cloth. Because of its important traditional uses and designs loaded with cultural significance, bogolanfini is an ideal means of expression for artists who wish their work to be identified with Malian culture. The style of bogolanfini is constantly changing to reflect market demands as well as artist creativity. Until recently only women of noble descent practiced this art. Today bogolanfini has merged with modern wants and needs, making it one of the most popular trades from African culture inspired by and still making use of an age old tradition. Traditionally, bogolanfini has been tied to significant events in Bamana life. It has been used for hunters' shirts, as well as women's wrap skirts, worn immediately following childbirth, and finally to shroud the corpse. Different patterns and styles of bogolanfini are worn by certain groups to denote membership or to reflect individual taste.


The process of creating bogolanfini artwork requires both patience and skill. Most of the work is done during the dry season, from October to May. Long cloth strips, finimugu, about six inches wide are woven by men and sold in rolls at the market. Iron rich mud is collected from the middle of a dried up pond, covered with several inches of water and left to ferment in a clay pot for a year. Branches of native plants are pounded in a mortar and soaked in water for twenty four hours. White cotton cloth is dipped in this mixture, turning it a bright yellow color, and then left to dry in the sun. The yellow mixture becomes a mordant, or a solution that insures the mud dye is more effectively absorbed. Mordanting the cloth then painting it with mud rich in iron oxide produces the black or dark brown color for which bogolanfini is most recognized. The fermented mud is used to paint the dark background around carefully outlined images and symbols. Artists support the cloth on an inverted calabash while painting with a bamboo stick or iron spatula. The tip of the spatula is used for outlining, while the flattened surface is more suitable for spreading the mud in larger areas. The borders are drawn first, and the design is worked inward. After the first time consuming mud application dries, the cloth is then dipped in water to remove any excess mud particles. Next, it is soaked in the leaf solution a second time and dried. Bogolanfini designs are usually retraced with mud at least one more time, and sometimes even a third application is needed to produce the desired darkness. Extra mud coatings also protect the material from fading.
Lines divide a cloth into five different design areas. These lines are the bones or "skeleton" of the overall design, determining the subsequent patterns with which the cloth will be covered. While Bogolan designs are often abstract representations of commonly known objects the purpose of the message is to document significant moments in artists' personal histories. The repetition of the same design is common, although many different designs can be placed together to represent a well known historical event or to commemorate a local hero. Overall, bogolanfini offers a means for displaying as well as passing along political and moral messages. Bogolanfini is an art form of continual evolution, lending itself to many situations and interests while remaining rooted in cultural tradition and African aesthetics.
Donne, J. "Bogolanfini: a Mud painted Cloth from Mali." Man v.8, March 1973, p.104 7.
Imperato, Pascal James. "Nakunte Diarra: Bogolanfini Artist of the Beledougou." African Arts v.27, April 1994, p.78 9.
Imperato, P.J. and M. Shamir. "Bokolanfini: Mudcloth of the Bamana of Mali." African Arts. v.3, April 1970, p.32 41, 80.
Rovine, Victoria. "Bogolanfini in Bamako: the Biography of a Malian Textile." African Arts v.30, winter 1997, p.40 51.

Procedure

  1. As a group, examine the textile images. Ask students to think about how it was made, and speculate on what the symbols might mean. Emphasize that a component of understanding the symbols is being familiar with the symbolic language or the specific visual language of a culture created to be recognized by others in the group.




  1. After thinking about the example, ask students to work in groups to brainstorm about their own symbols. Are there existing shapes or symbols that are meaningful in American culture? (These can range from stop signs to corporate logos). How about in their personal lives?




  1. Either in small groups, or as individuals, ask students to draw a design for their own textile using symbols they brainstormed. This can be done on paper, or transferred to fabric if desired. Focus on abstracting the images to the most basic lines and shapes. What is most important about the symbols? Letters, colors, shapes? These characteristics should come through in their design.




  1. In order to understand how designs are made on mud cloths, students should first sketch their design onto paper then fill in around it with color. This is similar to the process used to apply color to mud cloth.




  1. To take the assignment a step further for older groups, students can create displays that incorporate their abstract design with photographs of the images the symbols were based on. Contrast these student assignments with an image of a Bogolanfini mud cloth explaining its symbolism. See the Additional Resources list at the end of this booklet for ideas on where to find images of African textiles.

Advanced Activity 1: Kuba Cloth

Recommended for Grades 6-12

One, 30-minute session
Objectives

  • Students will examine the process of creating a textile.

  • Students will think about ceremonies, both in the past and present, in a global sense.


Indiana Academic Standards met by this activity

Visual Art: 6.1.1, 7.1.2, 7.1.3, 8.2.1, H.1.2

Social Studies: K.5.4, 1.5.5, 2.5.3, 2.5.4, 7.5.1, 7.5.2, 7.5.3, 7.5.4
Supplies

  • Images of African art from the IMA’s collection—Kuba cloth (digitally projected or printed out hardcopy)


Introduction

Kuba cloth, the impressive embroidered and appliqué fabric of the Kuba people, is the best-known example of the ancient African tradition of raffia cloth weaving.


The ceremonial occasions and court rituals that embroidered raffia cloth were originally produced for are rare events today. The survival of raffia weaving and embroidery techniques is tied to the importance these cloths play in today's funeral celebrations. The Kuba believe that high quality, correctly patterned raffia dress is the key to being recognized by clan ancestors in the land of the dead. For this reason, families preserve the cloths and pass them down through generations.
The Kuba are a group of peoples that live in the region formally known as Zaire in Central Africa. They are famous around the world for their raffia cloths, usually in the shape of a rectangular or square mat. Men and women jointly produce these mats. The men weave the basic square mat on a vertical loom using raffia, palm-leaf fibers that have been stripped, rubbed, and scraped (Sieber, 1972). The women then dye the mats, sew them together, and embroider them. It is women who produce the most laborious and prestigious type of cloth decoration.
It takes about a month of consistent work for a woman to complete one small square of Kuba embroidery using a laborious technique that includes dying, detailed needlework and clipping individual tufts of thread. Except for novices, designs are created as the crafter proceeds, usually elaborating on one of the more than 200 traditional patterns, most which are identified by name. The same patterns are used on other Kuba art forms, including wood sculpture, metalworking, mat making and women's body scarification.
Process and Technique:

The most renowned embroidery technique is called cut-pile. Cut-pile cloths are also called Kasai velvets, “because of their velvety texture and because the Kuba live near the Kasai River” (Hogarth, 1995). The technique involves the use of a needle to pull very fine threads of raffia through the base mat and then out again. The raffia is cut with a special knife just a few millimeters from the surface of the mat so that a “U”-shape of raffia remains. After this is repeated thousands of times, a soft velvety texture is achieved. This process is very intricate and laborious for women, and one mat can take up to a year to complete. Because of the intense labor involved in the making of Kasai velvets, they are considered to be valuable and prestigious.


The Kuba women have a general idea of the design or pattern they want to embroider onto the mat before they start, but the entire process of embroidery is done from memory. As work on the cloth progresses, different variations and irregularities develop through this improvisational technique. Although each cloth is unique, most have a geometric theme using rectangles and triangles as the basic shapes. The most popular colors are black, yellow, beige and red for the embroidery, and in some regions the underlying mat is dyed purple.

The velvety cut-pile cloths are indeed the most prestigious of the Kuba people, but raffia cloth is also used in other ways to produce decorative textiles. Centuries ago, the Kuba wore plainly woven raffia cloths. When holes appeared or the cloth wore thin, pieces of cloth would be appliquéd on top of the existing cloth. When the Kuba discovered the interesting effect created by this technique, they started to appliqué different designs across the raffia cloth. This technique, which started as a way of prolonging the life of raffia cloth, has evolved into a method producing very intricate appliqué.


Hogarth, Brian. Fabric of African Life: Introducing West African Textiles. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, Education Division, 1995.
Perani, Judith and Fred Smith. The Visual Arts of Africa. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Sieber, Roy. African Textiles and Decorative Arts. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1972.
Spring, Christopher. African Textiles. New York: Crescent Books, 1989.
The African Conservancy, 2001. http://www.africanconservancy.org/member/kuba.html>


Procedure

  1. As a group, examine the textile image and think about how it was made, and hypothesize about its function.




  1. Discuss the primary use of this type of textile as a funerary object in Kuba culture. Ask students to consider what types of textiles exist in our culture for specific ceremonies or times in life.




  1. Ask students to research the use of textiles in the cycle of life across cultures. Many different cultures have specific garments, or other textile objects, that are used to recognize births, deaths, weddings, coming of age and other special occasions.




  1. Students can work in groups or as individuals to create a presentation, either a display or a digital slide show, which can be shared with the group. Start by examining African cultures and end up with examples from their own families. Assignments can be based on chronology, geography or textiles function.

Some examples include:



  • African ceremonial dress

  • Japanese kimono

  • Indian sari

  • Western wedding gowns

  • Christening gowns

  • Traditional Mexican dress now often used in performance

  • Native American costume


Bibliography
Barbour, Jane and Doig Simmonds. Adire Cloth in Nigeria. The Institute of African Studies:

University of Ibadan, Nigeria, 1971.


Cole, Herbert M., and Doran H. Ross. The Arts of Ghana. Los Angeles: Museum of

Cultural History, University of California Los Angeles, 1977.


Donne, J. "Bogolanfini: a Mud painted Cloth from Mali." Man v.8, March 1973, p.104 7.
Gillow, John. Printed and Dyed Textiles from Africa. University of Washington Press, Seattle,

2001.
Hogarth, Brian. Fabric of African Life: Introducing West African Textiles. Indianapolis:

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Education Division, 1995.
Imperato, Pascal James. "Nakunte Diarra: Bogolanfini Artist of the Beledougou." African Arts v.27, April 1994, p.78 9.
Imperato, P.J. and M. Shamir. "Bokolanfini: Mudcloth of the Bamana of Mali." African Arts. v.3, April 1970, p.32 41, 80.
Perani, Judith and Fred Smith. The Visual Arts of Africa. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Picton, John and John Mack. African Textiles. British Museum Publications Limited, 1979.
Rogers, Donna Coates. Royal Art of the Kuba. The University of Texas, Austin, 1979.
Rovine, Victoria. "Bogolanfini in Bamako: the Biography of a Malian Textile." African Arts v.30, winter 1997, p.40 51.
Sieber, Roy. African Textiles and Decorative Arts. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1972.
Spring, Christopher. African Textiles. New York: Crescent Books, 1989.

Additional Resources
Websites:
http://www.ima-art.org/cycles/index.html

Visit the IMA’s website and explore this interactive on-line activity to learn more about art’s role in everyday life in Africa.


http://encarta.msn.com/

A general encyclopedic resource for research


http://www.pbs.org/wnet/africa/

Activities for children as well as teachers can be found on this PBS site looking at African life.


http://www.nytimes.com/pages/world/africa/

Current New York Times reporting on news from Africa


http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Home_Page/Country.html

A list of resources organized by African country created by the University of Pennsylvania






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