African Textiles: Art & Artists

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Adinkra and bogolan. Geometric designs and modern experimentation. African textiles are a fascinating blend of tradition and innovation. In this lesson, learn about the art of African textiles and explore some artists who work in this medium.

A Wide Range of African Textiles

Africa is a vast continent, full of diverse peoples, and traditions related to making things like textiles.

Textiles are flexible substances created by connecting natural or synthetic fibers. The result is a fabric used to make things like clothing, bed coverings, and curtains. Throughout Africa, cultures make a variety of textiles using available raw materials like cotton, wool, silk, and raffia, the fibers of long palm leaves.

Many beautiful and colorful textiles are made in Africa
textiles in African market

African textiles are used for many purposes, both utilitarian and symbolic. They communicate social and political messages in the colors used on them and the specific designs or patterns that adorn them. They're also used for ceremonies like weddings, funerals, and initiation rites. And, of course, they keep people warm and express personal style.

Types of African Textiles

Among the many types of African textiles is adinkra cloth, made by the Asante people of Ghana. Adinkra cloth is woven from fibers like cotton or wool, then black designs (adinkra) are stamped with stamps made from dried calabash gourd. The cloth has special significance as funerary wear.

Bogolan is a type of mud cloth made by the Bamana people of Mali. Bogolan is made of narrow woven strips of cotton fabric, sewn together to form a larger piece of cloth. That cloth is then dyed with natural plant-based dyes that work in connection with a process using fermented mud.

Bogolan is printed using fermented mud
Bogolan cloth

Kente cloth is a woven cloth often made from silk or cotton. This striking cloth is decorated during the weaving process with brilliantly colored geometric stripes and bands. It's made by several tribes related the Akan ethnic group that lives around Ghana, including the Asante and Ewe people.

Contemporary African textile artists use such traditional textiles as inspiration for their work. Let's explore the work of a few of them.

African Textile Artists

Aïssa Dione

Aïssa Dione is a noted weaver in Senegal who creates fabrics for home interiors and fashion. Of French and Senegalese descent, she uses locally-sourced materials like cotton, silk, and raffia to weave beautiful fabric using traditional Senegalese Mandjaque weaving techniques. Dyes used on these fabrics are created from natural substances like local barks and muds.

Dione opened her company Aissa Dione Tissus in 1992. Today, her all-Senegalese workforce weaves, dyes, and sews fabrics for her brand. They also make fabrics for luxury brands like Hermès.

Nike Davies Okundaye

Award-winning Nigerian textile artist Nike Davies Okundaye grew up in a culture rich in traditional textile weaving and dyeing practices. Her great-grandmother taught her how to weave cloth. She also taught Okundaye how to make Adire, an indigo-dyed cloth hand-painted with resist paste. Resist paste is a substance that, when applied to a surface, results in dye not adhering to it. The result is a hand-drawn design on a deep blue background. It's a type of cloth specific to the Yoruba culture.

Today, Okundaye is famous for work that combines traditional Adire techniques with contemporary style. Her works are sold around the world. She's the owner of several art galleries and has founded four art centers in Nigeria to preserve the heritage of indigo-dyeing and Adire.

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