One of the most interesting new additions to London’s prestigious Victoria & Albert museum is a exhibition showcasing the world’s largest pieces of cloth made from spider silk. On display is an elaborate embroidered cape and a 4 meter long scarf. The silk used to produce these items came from over one million female golden orb weaver spiders collected from the highlands of Madagascar. Everyday for seven years, 80 people collected wild spiders to produce enough silk to weave these striking pieces. Not to worry, the spiders are kept safe. They are retained for about 12 hours, just enough time to extract the silk, and then they are returned to their natural environment. The display will run until June 5, 2012.
I just returned from Costa Rica. As usual, I was on a hunt to satisfy my textile obsession. While the indigenous communities of Costa Rica are not known for textile production, I managed to discover a group that is, just over the border in Panama.
The Kuna Indians, a tribal community occupying the San Blas islands off the Eastern coast of Panama are recognized for their colorful geometric cotton panels referred to as Molas. The elaborate, artistic textiles are created utilizing a reverse appliqué technique applied to several layers of different color cloth, through which designs are carved. Molas have become a part of the traditional dress of the Kuna women. They are attached to the front of blouses and skirts as a form of artistic expression and a celebration of the culture.
Deep within the Ituri Rainforest of the Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire lies the habitat of the Mbuti people, one of the last hunter-gatherer cultures in the world. This distinctive nomadic society thrives solely off the rich, natural environment of their surroundings. The Mbuti are bamiki bandura, “children of the forest.” Their values are deeply rooted in spiritual and symbolic tradition expressed through song and dance. The barkcloths are produced as ritual dress for festivals, celebrations and rites of passage, including wedding and funeral ceremonies.
The elaborate art of the barkcloth is a social activity, and Mbuti learn how to make barkcloth from an early age. The barkcloth canvas is obtained by the men, sourced from the inner bark of about six different species of trees. It is pounded with an ivory or wood mallet to produce a subtle textured and supple fibrous canvas composed of various natural shades of white, tan or reddish brown. The women prepare the dyes and paints from a variety of roots, fruits and leaves which they collect from the forest. The paint is applied with twigs, twine or fingers.
The Mbuti barkcloth paintings reflect their world. They are abstract expressions of the forest from the geometric intricacies of the trees to the creatures that inhabit it. The artisans transform signs of the visible and the invisible into a unique visual language that reflects the spiritual and symbolic core of their culture. The artists combine a variety of motifs from butterflies, birds, leopard spots with geometric patterns that give an impression of motion, sound and shape within the forest landscape: light filtered through trees, buzzing insects, ant trails, tangled vines. Cross-hatched squares, perhaps representing the texture of reptilian skin, are shorthand for turtles, crocodiles or snakes.
To learn more about about Mbuti Barkcloth visit Textile of Africa or FAO
To view more and purchase visit the Indigo Arts Gallery or Gebhart Blazek / Berber carpets & textiles
Filed under Art, Textiles
These eye-catching antique quilts featuring technicolor, graphic and geometric motifs are from Hay, a Danish furniture company based in Copenhagen. Each quilt is handmade from 5 layers of vintage saris sourced from markets in the Rajasthan area of India.
Available at Hay Shop.
Filed under Design, Textiles