Never mind the politics, feel the fabric
Louisa Buck on The Art of African Textiles
Tuesday 10 October 1995
Less a survey and more a celebration, this show combines Africa's past and present and shows that the relationship between the two is volatile but healthy. Repeatedly, technology is appropriated, utilised and adapted on Africa's terms, and the result is a re-invigoration rather than a dilution of individual expression.
From the vivid cotton applique doorway entrance, custom-made this year in the tent-maker's quarter of Cairo, via contemporary woven Yoruba lurexes to complicated silk hand-weaves from Madagascar. From the punchy proverbs on Kenya's mass-produced cotton kangas to the vibrant multitude of wax print cottons increasingly manufactured in Africa rather than Europe; in all their diversity and at every stage of their production, the textiles of Africa are a rich reflection of its complicated, shifting cultures.
And in this exhibition, there's even a physical feeling of Africa itself. Temperature and tempo shift as you move through vividly painted rooms strewn with multi-coloured sand. There's Malian mudcloth and a wall of limpid Yoruba indigoes, a Transvaal wrap-around bristling with safety pins, a clamorous room of machine-printed symbols and slogans and a bolt of tie-dyed cotton from Zaria, Nigeria. The latter cascades down a wall in seeping strips of purple and sienna looking like an aeriel photograph of a river-bed.
The human presence behind these fabrics is never forgotton (and, in the case of the jolly arm-waving Zairian cloth coffin, it's closer than you may think) and the show's dynamic, animated feel has much to do with Joe Casely-Hayford, better known for dressing those at the cutting-edge of fashion, making his debut as exhibition designer.
"The Art of African Textiles" achieves a rare goal. It entertains its audience without diminishing its subject. Through its vivid colours, various materials and arresting designs, serious political points emerge about social and economic circumstances and shifts of power. These fabrics provide a hotline to the identity and aspirations of Africa's multifarious peoples. Whether in the form of a handmade "Ancient Mother" masquerade costume from Northern Edo in Nigeria, a Ghanaian applique Fante flag, flying banknotes on machine prints from Burkina Faso or Nelson Mandela's face on a bolt of machine-printed cotton produced for the ANC in South Africa's 1994 elections - past and present, technology and skill, art and craft all converge and combine into a moveable, wearable, even waveable feast.
n Barbican, London EC2 (0171-638 4141) to 10 Dec
n Andrew Graham-Dixon will review the African art season next week
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
25 years of Disney: How Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa and Pixar's geniuses helped the company conquer the world (again)
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account