FASHIONARCHAEOLOGY has a thing about African textiles. A deep-rooted fascination (which leads to compulsive buying of textiles a/o clothing made of it). Why I love them so much? I would start by saying that I find them “exotic”…different from what surrounds me, different from the prevailing culture of textiles and dress I live in on a daily basis. The fact that my craving for African textiles emerges as the spring turns to summer has to be significant . Although I also like to wear the odd bit of African print in the middle of winter to purposely jar with the muted sombre tones of winter clothing.
So, back to exoticism and the magical unknown. Here are some Africa/fashion/textiles/art related images that I have been contemplating.
First thing: Yinka Shonibare MBE British artist of Nigerian origins
He too is obsessed with african textiles. In fact I should be more precise he is, like myself, interested in what are called “wax” in jargon. But in his case this “obsession” makes far more sense. In this self-portrait he has super imposed a photo of himself and a piece of african fabric – yes quite odd but as he explains in his own words he is investigating a very peculiar african heritage.
“In 1990 I developed another way of questioning ideas about cultural authenticity. I started to use “African” fabric purchased from Brixton Market in my work. Batik, which is commonly known as “African” fabric, has its origins in Indonesia and is industrially produced in Holland and Manchester for export to Africa where it is made into traditional dress. The adoption of the fabric, particularly in West Africa, has led to the development of local industries which also manufacture fabrics. . . . In my own practice, I have used the fabrics as a metaphor for challenging various notions of authenticity both in art and identity.”
—Yinka Shonibare (London, 1996) from Met museum NY 2009 exhibition on Africa Textiles
“Wax” textiles are not african at all and if you visit the website of a textile company called Vlisco in Holland www.vlisco.com you can read up about the origins of this brilliantly fake product. By the early 1800s european traders (ok colonialist exploiters) had tapped into a key market in Africa – dress textiles. Industrialization had become a reality in northern Europe, cotton was being spun, woven and printed in a flash and it was cheap. The cunning plan was to observe local african traditions (beginning to be seriously challenged by colonialist culture) and re-elaborate them to produce a new tradition. These manufacturers, with the aid of clever agents across Africa, soon reinvented local textiles and dress habits. Nearly 200 years later and this type of textile is still going strong . Over time it has developed its own subculture. Different patterns with specific meanings attributed to them in different areas. Some are obvious references to contemporary culture, for example the graduation print below which speaks about the quest for bettering the self, the need for education and the pride in achievement.
The two prints below are more conceptual. They are abstract shapes of primitive strength and strong vibrant shades suitable for the scorching sun of west Africa. At the same time they also, somehow work up the “native” heritage (or myth of the real africa ). the point is they did not exist before colonialism…
And to finish this first post (more to follow) on Africa and its invented textile/fashion/art cultures here are two amazing pieces from Yinka Shonibare
Fake death picture (the death of Chatterton – Henry Wallis) 2011
The sleep of reason produces monsters (America) 2008