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Magic Beauty from Africa

Deutsches Textilmuseum, Andreasmarkt 8, D-47809 Krefeld, Germany, 28 January-15 April

caste closely connected with the social elite and only royalty was allowed to wear their finest work. A symbol of prestige and magnificence Yokoman is the name of the highest ranking strip pattern in red, yellow and green. It belongs to

INDIGO: A Blue to Dye For

The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, www.whit 20 January-15 April Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery 19 May-1 September Brighton and Hove

It may come as a surprise to learn that one of the most spectacular collections of African textiles has been slumbering in a small museum in provincial Western Germany for the last 30 years. Brigitte Menzel (19301998), former director of that museum, was one of the foremost ethnologists researching and collecting

the Oyoko, the leading clan of the Asante people. Since the early 20th century, the Textile Museum in Krefeld had been collecting raffia textiles from Kongo. raffia bast fibres come from the leaves of the raffia palm tree. A fine example acquired in 1959, was made by the Shoowa people of the former kingdom of Kuba (today Dem. Rep. of Kongo). Stem stitch and velvet embroidery create a bold geometric pattern. These textiles reflect one of the oldest indigenous textile traditions of Africa. Several striking tobe robes made by the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria entered the collection of the Textile Museum in 1943. The Hausa are famous for their elaborate embroidery on garments for men of high standing. A family would embroider one garment a year with traditional family designs. The Yoruba from south western Nigeria are well known for their spectacular blue adire textiles made of indigo dyed cotton. When European merchants introduced large quantities of white shirting material in Yoruba towns early in the 20th century, women dyers started to experiment with different dye techniques. Most notably, they hand-painted designs using cassava starch paste prior to dyeing (adire aleke). This exhibition, which draws together three collections of intriguing textiles, testifies to the skill and creativity of West-African textiles. ••• Dr. Elisabeth Hackspiel 06 Palanquin cover, Adanuvo cloth, Ewe People, c.1950, Cotton, 315 x 180cm . 07 Detail of “Tobe”, robe for men, Hausa, Nigeria. Indigo dyed cotton, embroidery, “8 knife pattern”, 127 x 257cm

Museum & Art Gallery 29 September-6 January 2008

This is a textile blockbuster exhibition and as such should not be missed. Just as the Indigo plant produces a wide range of rich and luminous hues, this exhibition displays with delicate nuance the work of an international group of artists and designers who reveal indigo's originating traditions and explore contemporary innovative uses of today. Indigo has been brought together by Dr Jennifer Harris, textile curator at the Whitworth Art Gallery with input from Jenny Balfour-Paul, an authoritative indigo expert and author of a seminal text in the field, Indigo. The show presents rare and exemplary artifacts but time must be allocated to watch the accompanying videos, which highlight the historical, agricultural, botanical, economic and sociological aspects of this influential dye plant. As well as admiring the profound artistry and craftsmanship required to harness such a famed dye it is important to remember the distressing conditions of indigo workers that led to events such as the “Blue Mutiny” in Bengal in 1886. The ground floor gallery takes the viewer through the far reaching alchemy of Indigo, exhibiting historical and cultural textiles and concluding in a display of denim jeans from prominent designers and legendary brands, such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Levi’s and Gap. Some of the most noteworthy examples include a triple woven cloth from Venezuela, made from silk Moriche palm fibers and wool from the Andean Mountains and dyed with

West-African textiles. Many of the items she collected are now extremely rare. Complicated twists of her biography meant Menzel's textiles were split between the Ethnological Museum in Berlin and the German Textile Museum in Krefeld, whereas her comprehensive research notes are preserved in the Ethnological Museum in Leiden, The Netherlands. Fortunately all three cooperated to produce this exhibition dedicated to Brigitte Menzel in memoriam. The earliest records of indigenous West-African textile production date back to the 10th to 15th centuries when Islamic textile merchants ventured there. Later during the 18th and 19th centuries, cotton and cotton textiles became a central commodity in the triangular trade between Europe, Africa and America but despite centuries of colonial exploitation West-African people were able to pursue their own textile traditions. Most famous are the bright and beautiful kente cloths made by the Asante and Ewe people from Ghana and Togo. They consist of long strips woven on narrow horizontal looms. Mainly made of cotton, these strips are skilfully

sewn together to form large pieces of cloth which are draped around the body like the ancient Roman Toga. The striped and geometric patterns carry meanings and indicate clan membership. Weavers belonged to a privileged

© Jenny Balfour-Paul Collection

Dieter Gasse

Dieter Gasse

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