African-Print Fashion Volume 41.2

PATRICIA WAOTA, DESIGNER FOR K-YÉLÉ: TIFFANY EVENING DRESS  in Vlisco wax print, made for 2015 Vlisco Fashion Show, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  Photograph by Joshua White/JWPictures.com. All photographs courtesy of Fowler Museum at UCLA .

PATRICIA WAOTA, DESIGNER FOR K-YÉLÉ: TIFFANY EVENING DRESS in Vlisco wax print, made for 2015 Vlisco Fashion Show, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Photograph by Joshua White/JWPictures.com. All photographs courtesy of Fowler Museum at UCLA.

WOMAN WEARING DRESS printed with portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and Union flags, black and white photograph, circa 1977. Photograph by Jacques Toussele, © Jacques Toussele.

In 2015 Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo expressed her affinity for African-print cloth, stating, “This is our cloth. Our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers have worn this cloth for too many years for it not to be ours.” Her passionate words suggest the fervor with which African-print cloth is linked to African identity as well as an awareness of its transnational history and present. Its story begins in the late nineteenth century, when the (mostly female) traders in what is now Ghana, on Africa’s west coast, encountered European merchants arriving with a new kind of fabric—vividly-patterned wax prints. These women, from communities that had for generations revered well-made textiles and appreciated imported goods, recognized the potential of the colorful wares and suggested to the merchants motifs and hues that would appeal to their customers.

One merchant in particular, Scotland’s Ebenezer Brown Fleming, who was working with a company in the Netherlands, listened to the feedback his agent received, and, around 1890, began offering printed cloths that—though manufactured by machines in Europe and inspired by handmade batik fabrics from Indonesia—became entirely African. Scholar Helen Elands states concisely that, “It was African interaction in design choices that enabled African aesthetics and cultural values to pervade these products, allowing them to carry connotations of tradition and authenticity.” Many contemporary fashion designers, both in Africa and the diaspora, continue to embrace African-print cloth, which is now manufactured in Europe, Africa and Asia, as a declaration of their connection to Africa. Though these fabrics are delicately entangled in the complexities of Colonialism, technology, consumerism, and style, they are, at heart, African and in innumerable ways, global. 

ALEXIS TEMOMANIN, DESIGNER FOR DENT DE MAN. LES TOILES D’ARAIGNÉE: MAN’S SUIT in wax print by Vlisco, the Netherlands, 2016. Courtesy of Dent de Man, London, UK. Photograph by Marc Hibbert.

Several recent exhibitions have focused on African design and fashion, including “Making Africa—A Continent of Contemporary Design” organized by the Vitra Design Museum in 2015-2019; “South of the Sahara: Accelerated Urbanism in Africa” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2016; “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016-2017; and “African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style” in 2017-2019. This last exhibition, conceived by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in 2014 just before an explosion in popularity of African-print fashion, focused on the cloth and fashion of West and Central Africa, addressing their history and contemporary iterations while conveying the multifaceted networks of international trade that shaped them and the intricate expressions of identity that they embody. Its lavishly illustrated catalogue, with essays by numerous scholars, including the four co-curators: Suzanne Gott, Kristyne S. Loughran, Betsy D. Quick, and Leslie W. Rabine, stands as a permanent record of a dazzling exhibition.

The terminology used to describe and the technology used to create African-print cloth vary between countries and over time. In the standard hierarchy of African prints, though, “wax prints” generally are the most desirable and are produced with a resist-dye process employing engraved metal rollers that results in fabric printed on both sides and showing characteristic undyed areas of crackles and bubbles; additional layers of color are applied through a variety of methods. “Fancy prints” are printed on one side of the fabric through numerous methods, but do not use the resist-dye process, while “imi-wax prints,” or imitation wax prints, are a kind of fancy print designed to imitate the effect of the resist-dye process. All of these boldly-patterned and brightly-colored fabrics are considered African prints.

MEMBERS OF A GROUP wearing the classic God’s Eye pattern for the Cape Coast Fetu Afahye Festival, Ghana, 2012. Photograph by Betsy D. Quick.

The motifs on African-print cloth range from alphabets to handbags, iPods to chickens, radiating spirals to elaborate hair braid styles. Some early designs derive from Indonesian images, like Tree of Life or Bunch of Bananas (also called Shell), which initially represented the wing of the legendary Garuda bird of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology. Others reflect patterns from traditional African textiles, such as Sun Ray or Target, a design based on tie-dyed fabrics, or Angelina, also called Dashiki and based on Ethiopian tunics with embroidered neck yokes and borders. Especially popular motifs include a hand with coins, a human eye, and fingers, and these often relate to familiar proverbs like “The palm of the hand is sweeter than the back of the hand,” and “I am left with only my eyes to watch you.” Some designs reflect significant current events, like Ghana’s independence from colonial rule on March 6, 1957, Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the visit of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009, or International Women’s Day. Others are produced for specific occasions such as weddings or funerals.

IN A VILLAGE NEAR BROBO, CÔTE D’IVOIRE, an unidentified woman wears a wax-print featuring the distinctive skyline of Abidjan, 1992. The three-piece complet, made from six meters of printed cloth, is considered by many to be traditional Ivorian dress and is associated with propriety, discretion, moral fortitude, and a high regard for tradition. Photograph by Kathleen Bickford Berzock.

Though the earliest African-print cloth was manufactured in Europe, companies began producing prints in Africa during the independence era (late 1950s-1970s), and by the early twenty-first century, countries in Asia, especially China, made their own versions of African-print cloth. In many African countries the “original” wax prints from the Netherlands are revered as the most prestigious, while at times the pride of local manufacture has taken precedent. The purchasing power of Africans declined radically following the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the late 1980s and 1990s, creating an opening for less costly products from Asia. The recent influx of inexpensive Asian imports has both strengthened devotion to higher-end products and spurred popular interest in and use of African-print cloths as it has made them more accessible. Anthropologist Nina Silvanus describes the cloth as “full of irony,” and “a true hybrid—at once Javanese, Dutch, English, African, and now increasingly Chinese,” adding, “the archive of wax cloth complicates claims about origin, originality, and authenticity.”

Regardless of where the cloths are printed, they acquire their names in Africa. In her essay, Kathleen Bickford Berzock explains that “the long-standing practice of the naming of wax-print patterns by the consumers who purchase, wear, and collect them is part of its enculturation into local frames of meaning and value,” adding that the popularity of a print increases once it receives a name. 

A cloth’s name, motif or related proverb speaks clearly to its wearer’s peers. One popular print for mothers, midwifes, or women desiring children is Children are Better than Money, while a particular fancy print from the early 1990s incorporates the proverb En attendant mon grotto (“Waiting for my grotto”—an Ivorian slang term similar to “sugar daddy”) below an image with a young woman pointing to the desirable possessions of a Mercedes-Benz and a single-family home, against a pattern of coins. 

Berzock quotes folklorist Susan Domowitz on how, among the communities she studied in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire, prints based on proverbs sometimes offered “an acceptable public voice to those who are constrained to silence.” 

KEN TRAORÉ, DESIGNER. KENYA’S STYLE: Pagne et marinière of African-print cloth, 2016. Photograph by Leslie W. Rabine.

African fashion was, and in many places still is, primarily custom rather than ready-to-wear, and Suzanne Gott, in one of her contributions to the catalogue, describes the process as “an ever-changing, grassroots phenomenon.” The first, and most crucial step, is for the woman to select the cloth. The woman then takes her special fabric to a seamstress or tailor to be made into a traditional form, like the ntoma (the equivalent of “cloth”) ensemble in Ghana with a sewn blouse, wrapper or sewn skirt, and an unsewn cloth (an outfit typically requiring six yards of cloth) or the taille basse in Senegal (a fitted top with a peplum worn over a wrapper), or into something contemporary. Examples of these garments featured in the African-Print Fashion Now! catalogue include Senegalese designer Ken Traoré’s taille basse and head scarf from 2016 in bright yellow with orange flowers and olive-colored leaves, and Ivorian designer/seamstress Delphine Kouassi’s trois-pagnes (the Ivorian national dress) in a brilliant print of greens, turquoise and brown with sparkling metallic trim edging the ruffles—the sparkles surprised Saundra Lang, who commissioned this as a daytime dress, but when she expressed that, Koaussi replied, “This is how we dress in the daytime!”

Portraits from the 1960s and 1970s—described as “West and Central Africa’s ‘golden age’ of black and white photography”—emphasize the role these fabrics and garments have played in communicating identity, status, wealth, style, and ideas. Images by Francis K. Honny, working in coastal urban Ghana, show relatives posed in formal settings wearing matching prints to visually emphasize their familial ties, while ones by Mory Bamba, an itinerant photographer from Mali, depict young subjects outdoors in elaborate, chic ensembles. The photographs give faces, emotions, settings, and accessories to the African prints, and bear witness to the Ghanian proverb, “A beautiful cloth does not wear itself.”

BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHS: Portrait of man and woman by Francis K. Honny, Elmina, Ghana, circa 1975. Courtesy of Tobias Wendl. Portrait of young Peulh women and men by Mory Bamba, Sikasso region of southeastern Mali, circa 1978. Courtesy of Adama Bamba, © Mory Bamba. Portrait of woman and child by Jacques Toussele, 1970s. © Jacques Toussele. Photography spread quickly in the 1960s and 1970s with people in rural villages inviting traveling photographers to their communities to take their pictures.

One of the key manufacturers of African-print cloth is Vlisco, which formed in 1970 with the merger of two much older Dutch companies, P. F. Fentener van Vlissingen & Co. and Deventer Katoen Maatschappij voorheen Ankersmit & Co. (DKM). In 2006, Vlisco changed its approach from “a production-focused to a brand-driven fashion textile manufacturer,” and through its dynamic advertising campaigns, established itself as a significant fashion force. Vlisco created numerous outstanding garments considered “communication fashion,” described in the catalogue as “one-of-a-kind outfits created solely to ‘inspire’ Vlisco’s targeted consumers—well-educated elite and upper middle-class African women.” A 2013 example of this type of garment is a dress ensemble, in red, yellow and green, by Dutch designer Inge van Lierop (who was looking to nineteenth-century tailoring for inspiration), which features a fitted, long-sleeve top with a high collar and puffed shoulders of one pattern and an extravagantly voluminous skirt of a second pattern depicting traditional icons of African-print design, like fans, hands with coins and Bunch of Bananas, on pedestals—regally celebrating the cyclical nature of African-print fashion.

Today many African fashion designers, regardless of whether they are trained and based in Africa or the diaspora, embrace African-print fashion, according to Kristyne S. Loughran, who notes that, “Its aesthetic creates a direct and immediate visual link to Africa.” Lisa Folawiyo created a short dress in 2016 that combines two prints with detailed hand-embellishment—small beads sewn on the wedge of leaf-patterned fabric in the skirt and in the white dots above the waist, while Ituen Bassey, an award-winning designer from Nigeria who is partly based in London, designed a short dress in 2009 with glowing rainbow bands of African-print cloth that reference a tradition of patchwork. A standout example of this transnational connection is a dress designed by a teenager in New Jersey in 2015 to wear to prom; Kyemah McEntyre captured the attention of social media with her long-sleeved, décolletage, full-skirted gown of the Angelina pattern, quickly becoming a fashion sensation and sparking a vogue for African-print prom dresses.

BÉATRICE MANOVAN, DESIGNER. DRESS, Abidjan, 2016. SALOME LENANA wears a two-piece West African-style taille basse outfit, locally made in Nairobi, Kenya, 1994. Photograph by Leslie W. Rabine. NICOLE AMIEN, DESIGNER. TWO-PIECE ENSEMBLE, wax print, Uniwax, Côte d’Ivoire, 2016.

WALÉ OYÉJIDÉ, DESIGNER FOR IKIRÉ JONES. MAN’S JACKET, trousers and scarf of African-print cloth, Untold Renaissance collection, 2014.

Alex Temomanin, from Côte d’Ivoire, who established his Dent de Man brand in London, handpicks each print used in his garments based on its emotional resonance to his own experiences and its universal storytelling capacity. His trimly tailored man’s suit of a Vlisco spiderweb print, Les Toiles D’araignée conveys how as a teenager he felt trapped in a web—trying to figure out his identity, dealing with the fragility of poverty—and how he found comfort in fabrics, which were often his only toys as a child.

A man’s black-tie ensemble, designed by Nigerian-born Walé Oyéjidé for Ikiré Jones, the Philadelphia-based label he established with his partner Sam Hubler in 2013, features a red-printed jacket, black pants and a silk scarf. The scarf, from the Untold Renaissance collection, depicts an African man in eighteenth-century European garb against a collage of conventional European imagery. The textile raises issues related to immigration and, according to the label’s website, “the absence of persons of color in Medieval and Renaissance-era European art,” while relying on “the sampling method used in hip hop culture.” (A related Ikiré Jones scarf appeared in the recent blockbuster movie and fashion tour-de-force Black Panther.)

Diablos (Maguette Traore), a graffiti artist and designer from Senegal, explains, “I use African elements, like le wax. You just have to delve into your parental values, your ancestral values,” and Leslie W. Rabine writes that, “like other Dakar streetwear designers, he makes African print a deeply symbolic component of Senegalese hip-hop.” One of his outfits comprises a handpainted T-shirt with shrimp-printed chaya (traditional baggy, low-crotched pants).

DEEP DAKART, DESIGNER FOR MIZÉRABLES GRAFFF. HOODIE AND T-SHIRT of African-print cloth, 2016. Photograph by Leslie W. Rabine.


In this increasingly interconnected world, African-print fashion is an appropriate rallying point for African cultural identity. The catalogue for African-Print Fashion Now!, as did the recent exhibition, allows room for and even celebrates the complexity of its subject. The project brought together work by award-winning couturiers, unidentified seamstresses and many young designers, augmenting it with selections of accessories wrapped in prints, photography and contemporary art to convey the range of production and the cultural permeation of African-print cloth. Hassan Hajjaj’s stunning Afrikan Boy from 2012, a large photograph in a frame of sardine tins, combines art with fashion, showing a well-dressed man with an umbrella and a myriad of patterns. Essayist Hansi Momodu-Gordon writes of “the empowered individuality of [Hajjaj’s] subjects, who are not bound by singular definitions but appear as citizens of a global exchange of ideas,” words that could apply to all who wear African-print fashion.

 
 

HASSAN HAJJAJ. Afrikan Boy, 2012, My Rock Stars Volume 2 series; Metallic Lambda print on 3mm Dibond in wood frame with Geisha maquereau tins, 136 x 93 centimeters. Private Collection.

 
 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The quotations cited are drawn from essays written for the catalogue African Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style.

SUGGESTED READING
Gott, Suzanne, Kristyne S. Loughran, Betsy D. Quick, and Leslie W. Rabine.
African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2017. 
African-Print Fashion Now! Videos from the Fowler Museum: https://www.fowler.ucla.edu/exhibitions/african-print-fashion-now

“African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style” showed at the Mint Museum Randolph, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 7, 2018 - April 28, 2019; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee, February 24 - August 12, 2018; Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, March 26 - July 30, 2017.

 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts and craft. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York, and Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens. In 2015, the University of Georgia Press published her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion. This issue, she writes about the use of Dutch Vlisco wax print fabrics by African designers, in an article entitled “African-Print Fashion: Transnational Flair.”

Tuareg Jewelry Volume 40.3

ANTIQUE  TCHEROT  AMULETS/ KITABS  FROM MAURITANIA. Not all of these may have been made by Tuaregs, as the workmanship is quite similar between Tuareg and Mauritanian smiths, although the latter usually have better equipped workshops and tools. The square tcherot amulets are of either silver, or silver and copper, with fine crafting, especially the engraving. Because silver wears easily, many of the engravings are now barely visible. Whether the metal is precious, like silver, or base, like copper or brass, does not determine how well it is worked. An intricately and beautifully engraved tcherot from Niger is entirely of brass (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007: 71). Often, the silver panels are sweated onto the copper, and most are cold-constructed, with bezels holding the front in place. The use of decorative silver balls is also seen in tcherots from Niger (Gabus 1982). Among my favorites are those inspired by and shaped like a stylized  gerba  or their traditional goatskin water containers (Schienerl 1986). Most are made of steel, onto which are sweated panels of silver, copper or bronze, with copper wire loops. Some may have been covered with leather, with cutouts for the metal, decorative panels; one on this page, which is new, has this leather treatment. These range from 3.0 to 6.6 cm long.  Courtesy of Brinley Thomas (small gerba shape in silver and copper) and Jürgen Busch.

ANTIQUE TCHEROT AMULETS/KITABS FROM MAURITANIA. Not all of these may have been made by Tuaregs, as the workmanship is quite similar between Tuareg and Mauritanian smiths, although the latter usually have better equipped workshops and tools. The square tcherot amulets are of either silver, or silver and copper, with fine crafting, especially the engraving. Because silver wears easily, many of the engravings are now barely visible. Whether the metal is precious, like silver, or base, like copper or brass, does not determine how well it is worked. An intricately and beautifully engraved tcherot from Niger is entirely of brass (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007: 71). Often, the silver panels are sweated onto the copper, and most are cold-constructed, with bezels holding the front in place. The use of decorative silver balls is also seen in tcherots from Niger (Gabus 1982). Among my favorites are those inspired by and shaped like a stylized gerba or their traditional goatskin water containers (Schienerl 1986). Most are made of steel, onto which are sweated panels of silver, copper or bronze, with copper wire loops. Some may have been covered with leather, with cutouts for the metal, decorative panels; one on this page, which is new, has this leather treatment. These range from 3.0 to 6.6 cm long. Courtesy of Brinley Thomas (small gerba shape in silver and copper) and Jürgen Busch.

The Tuareg are a nomadic, Berber or Tamazight/Tamasheq speaking people, most of whom live in the Saharan and Sahelian regions—southern Algeria, western Libya, eastern Mali, northern Niger, and northeastern Burkina Faso (www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/anthropology-and-archaeology/people/tuareg). Gabus (1982) adds Mauritania, confirmed by Hillary and Abdou Louarti (pers. comm.) for eastern Mauritania and a bit of Nigeria. With the current African diaspora, Tuareg now also live in Europe and the United States.

 

SQUARE, CROPPED TRIANGLE AND TRIANGLE TCHEROT AMULETS FROM MAURITANIA. Two are of steel, one of tin (?) and copper/silver and one of brass, copper and silver. All are finely engraved and have engraved geometric plaques, many triangular, sweated onto their bases and cold-assembled via bezels. Note the rolled tube, used for holding the bent wire copper loops. Again, there is the dual role of the amulet shape and its decorations offering protection, especially regarding the triangular shapes. These are 3.3 to 5.1 cm high.

THREE GERBA AND ONE TRIANGULAR TCHEROT AMULETS. Largest gerba-shaped one is new, of copper covered with leather, with cutouts revealing the white metal/brass panels, poorly engraved, with copper tube and large copper/white metal balls at the tips of the stylized goatskin form, 9.5 cm high and smallest 4.4 cm high. Lower ones are antique, of steel, silver, copper, and/or brass.

THREE VINTAGE CROSSES OF AGADEZ AND IFERWANE. Mauritanian, of cast silver alloy, then tooled; note that engraving is worn on right-hand specimen, which is engraved on reverse/obverse, as is middle one. One to left newer, only engraved on obverse; 7.0 to 8.4 cm high. According to Creyaufmüller (1983), the upper and lower portions of such crosses have at least 20 and 28 variations respectively. Courtesy of J. Busch.

THREE CROSSES OF AGADEZ OR INARANGANAK. Strung on wool; traditionally worn with 3 - 5 crosses, also on cotton or synthetic fibers, according to Ethnic Embellishments. Courtesy of J. Busch.

Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament Magazine and Ethnic Embellishments, where noted.

Tuareg smiths utilize great hand and mental skills, and with a few simple tools produce wonderful ornaments. Truly, while their work is small, their skills and vision are large.

      For a nomadic people, the Tuareg have a large and varied assortment of jewelry, worn from head to ankle,  as well as perhaps the most diverse use of materials and techniques among African jewelers. Unlike jewelers of the Mahgreb, Tuareg smiths or inadan wan-tizol (makers of weapons and jewelry) have a very simple tool kit, suited for an itinerant life and reminiscent of early Native American jewelers. Tuareg jewelers are now very active in Africa and abroad (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007, Cheminée 2014, Liu 2017). Jewelry or jewelry components often attributed to the Tuareg are also worn by other tribal groups, such as the Bella, Fulani, Moors, and Wodaabe, as shown in photographs by Fisher (1984), as well as Mauritanians (Gabus 1984; Hillary and Abdou Louarti, pers. comm.). Berber and Mauritanian metal jewelry can also be confused with Tuareg adornment, although the latter are usually with less embellishment. While Tuareg jewelry is prominent in the marketplace and their smiths have high visibility (Benesh-Liu and Liu 2007, Bernasek 2008, Cheminée 2014, Liu 2017), their work has been largely ignored in the excellent French literature on Maghreb jewelry. Camps-Fabrer (1990) shows only one page of Tuareg jewelry, while others in the Édisud series have no coverage, and the recent extensive collection of North African jewelry (Chakour et. al. 2016) also does not include Tuareg work. This article only covers amulets/tcherots/kitabs, crosses and some rings, a very limited representation of the Tuareg jewelry repertoire and examples made by Mauritanians or other Berber peoples.

TRADITIONAL OLD TUAREG SHELL AND LEATHER HAMSAS. Niger, one has been embellished with green-dyed leather and red vinyl threads and strung into a contemporary-designed necklace of coral, stone beads and carved conus shell disks. One of the hamsa pendants has grooves on each of the five shell pieces; hard to determine if these are natural features or carved. Other shell squares are ridged in middle. The five geometric shell pieces are an abstraction of the five fingers or hamsa. Fisher’s photo (1984: 206) demonstrates their ubiquity among Niger Tuareg women. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

TRADITIONAL TUAREG SHELL AND LEATHER HAMSA OR KHOMESSA. Algeria, acquired in 1994: of shell and leather, it is strung on a thick cord wrapped with glass seed beads and leather. A very similar example is shown in Leurquin (2003: 54). The pendant is 10.2 cm wide and the shell has not been identified, possibly Arca? This type of pendant is also made in metal, of a silver alloy; Bernasek (2008: 11) states they are worn by Tuareg women in the Algerian Sahara. There are also pendants where a triangle is joined to a modified hamsa, both antique (Leurquin 2003: 54) and new, as seen on the last page of this article. The making of a popular form of an object in various materials is known as transposition (Liu 1995b). Courtesy of J. Busch.

      Angela Fisher (1984: 194) perhaps best summarized how intensely Tuareg smiths feel about their work, while referring to a padlock one had decorated: “For you this is as small as my thumbnail, for me it is huge. Look—there is the ant, the hyena, the jackal, the horse’s hoof, the moon, the stars and the sun, the good eye, the woman... the devil’s eyebrows, the laughter... that’s our life.” In many ways, she expresses well the conundrum when someone outside of a culture looks at their material goods, whether it is ancient, ethnographic or contemporary jewelry. The observer brings her or his knowledge and aesthetics to understand and evaluate, but usually lacks enough information to truly understand all the symbolism and the deep meaning that the jewelry imparts to that culture. This is especially true in cultures, like the Chinese, where not only the motifs all have symbolic meaning, but their combinations also become phonetic rebuses, further adding to the difficulty in deciphering for outsiders (Bartholomew 2006).

LARGE BOGHDAD CROSS PENDANT AND SMALL MOROCCAN BERBER BOGHDAD. The former are old and most likely from central Mali, Tuareg territory; not soldered but riveted silver. The Berber boghdad is also silver, old and from southern Morocco. Both of these antique crosses are very similar to the Trarza examples shown, although neither have wood backing. NEW BOGHDAD CROSS PENDANT. Niger, of brass and leather, showing mix of traditional Tuareg jewelry with modern appeal. Obverse and reverse: reverse has hallmark/signature of the maker. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

OLD SILVER PENDANTS. Niger, open-work/pierced pieces, these were normally sewn onto the front of a leather kitab or amulet, holding verses for the Qur’an and/or other protective writings, and worn as a necklace. Small tisek rings at top middle with agate or carnelian made in Idar-Oberstein: these were woven into women’s hair as ornaments: old, Niger, also Mali. Small silver and metal hair ornaments on a string are mostly from Niger. Many of these are a stylized form seen in North African jewelry of the Punic goddess Tanit, with a triangular shape topped by a circle, sometimes with a horizontal line where the circle and triangle meet, like arms. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

      Gabus (1982) and Cheminée (2014) provide excellent comparisons and contrasts of how Tuareg smiths work in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, through the former’s wonderful sketches by Hans Ernie and the latter’s photographs and interviews. Tuareg smiths have changed very little in their work processes or their tools and equipment. All still work while seated on the ground, often using a forked piece of wood as the work surface, with a square anvil (in contrast to horned anvils used by other North/West African jewelers) pounded into the ground. Both hands and feet are used, the latter to hold or steady the work. A leather bellows is still used to increase the heat and all their tools usually fit into a small box. They cast (lost wax or sand molds), forge, solder, pierce, surface decorate with gravers/punches and cold-connect. Their forging, filing, engraving and punching (with home-made tools) are superb, as well as their ingenious cold-connecting and use of a very large assortment of metals, wood, leather, and plastic. All the engraving is freehand, without an engraver’s block. Their forging skills, utilizing only the small, square anvil and a typical short-handled, heavy hammer, produce impeccable results, especially in older pieces. If one looked closely at the knobs and bosses on their tcherot or crosses, they all are uniform and finely varied. Some are slightly flattened, others pointed or filed into precise, geometric shapes. While silver is the preferred metal, copper, brass, white metal and steel are all utilized, to add color and vitality, much like how Western jewelers use colored golds. Whether precious or base metal, one does not see a difference in the level of workmanship. Their practice of combining different aspects of their design motifs and components into countless variations adds greatly to their vitality. Perhaps unique among African jewelers, Tuareg use imported Idar-Oberstein agate ornaments in an innovative and pragmatic manner, utilizing damaged or broken portions of talhakimt/talhatana, set in metal rings and pendants, as seen in examples on this and opposite page.

Tuareg smiths utilize great hand and mental skills, and with a few simple tools produce wonderful ornaments. Truly, while their work is small, their skills and vision are large.

 

OLD CROSSES FROM NIGER. Silver on top with colored vinyl underneath, backed by aluminum. These demonstrate the Boghdad cross motif that ranges from Morocco to Mauritania and east to Niger. While some of the shapes are similar, these differ considerably from the Mauritanian crosses of Trarza shown. Note the use of red and/or green on these crosses, as well as those on the Crosses of Trarza and the Hamsa necklaces. Photograph by and courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments private collection.

CROSSES OF TRARZA. Mauritanian, of silver/silver alloy, on ebony backing, with suspension loops of copper wire or the wood backing drilled width-wise. Wood is prized in Mauritania (Leurquin 2003: 57). Some crosses are inlaid with plastic or have additional shaped elements of plastic. The cross with filed geometric red plastic element also has beautifully worked pyramidal elements, besides the round balls. The engraved silver is attached to the ebony via rivets, the heads of which are the silver balls. Some of these may have been made in Boutilimit Province but Gabus (1984: 102-103) shows similar examples from Medérdra, Mauritania. The crosses are either strung on cord, twisted leather or multiple strands of leather/cord. These range from 3.9 to 6.1 cm high, excluding loops. Courtesy of J. Busch.

 

TUAREG AND MAURITANIAN JEWELRY, INCORPORATING EUROPEAN IMPORTS. Upper left shows assortment of Tuareg rings and pendants that incorporate broken or damaged Idar-Oberstein carnelian talhakimt, as well as an undamaged example, to show which portions are utilized when broken or damaged. Two can be used as rings, while the others are often seen strung on necklaces. The largest example is made as a pendant and is beautiful metalsmithing, with layers of copper/silver on the geometric bosses and finely punched decoration, 14.2 cm long. The small silver ring utilizing the broken top of a talhakimt is known as a tisek ring. The seemingly intact carnelian pendant wrapped in metal is actually cracked; it is similar to the two strung as pendants on the Mauritanian necklace to the right. The elaborately set talhakimt in the center, shown in reflected/transilluminated light, is very unusual; it appears to have a second hole drilled into the stone portion, with both openings ringed by silver. The Mauritanian necklace to the right is a very rare example of using human hair for a necklace; it has carved conus disks and Idar agate pendants, heat-treated red and dyed green ones, with a pendant of Mauritanian gilded metal beads, amber (?), Idar agate drop pendants and an Engina shell dangle. The carved conus shell disks are used by Tuaregs for their tcherots (Leurqin 2003: 55) and by Mauritanian Moors (Gabus 1982, Liu 2008). The silver transposition is also seen in aluminum. Further information can be found in Liu (1995a, 2002, 2008). Courtesy of the late Rita Okrent, Elizabeth J. Harris; David Spetka of Niger Bend, Brinley Thomas, J. Busch/G. Kerschna, Joe Loux, and Frontiers.

 
 

TUAREG AMULET OR TCHEROT WITH IMAGE OF THE CATHOLIC SAINT, ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX. An older piece of silver, white metal and copper; the image is original to the piece, so it was probably custom-made. She is a patron saint of missionaries, and there were Catholic missionaries in Southern Algeria and probably in Niger as well. OLD AXE-SHAPED AMULETS. Most likely from the Mauritanian/Mali border region. Silver alloy or white metal, copper and brass, with bail or loop riveted to the amulet, also done with amber beads in Mauritania. Neither of these amulet types have previously been published. Photographs by and courtesy of the private collection of Ethnic Embellishments.

 
 
 

CONTEMPORARY VERSION OF TRADITIONAL TUAREG HAMSA/KHOMESSA. Niger, fabricated, of brass, copper and leather. It is the melding of a triangular amulet and a doubled hamsa, although with two more elements, so as to make the design symmetrical. Both the triangle and hamsa offer protection. While this pendant is new and in base metals, there is still a good level of crafting. Courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

OLD TUAREG RINGS. The left is a talismanic ring from Niger, the center is a “mosque ring” from Mali; the right is a Fulani playing card motif fused with a Tuareg tisek ring and lastly a man’s tisek ring in the middle. Compare to the tisek ring on top left of opposite page; these all use broken portions of Idar-Oberstein agate talhakimt. Note inlay of copper in right-hand ring. Photograph by and courtesy of Ethnic Embellishments.

 
 
 

AGATE AND MOLDED GLASS TALHAKIMT, TALHATANA AND TURMRINGS. 1.7 - 7.5 cm long: the oldest are the Indian made agate/carnelian talhakimt (the tall triangular type in pale agate) and talhatana (short triangular type) on the bottom right-hand row, from an ex-museum collection. While these reached West Africa via Mecca (Fisher 1984), and have been discussed by Gabus (1982) and Liu (1977) as to their being the prototypes of European copies in stone and glass, they have never been found in a Tuareg jewelry context, nor the much later German celluloid example, second from right top row or the German agate turmring type (1960s) next to it. Most used are the large agate talhakimt (white pre-1960, red 1960s) and the shorter talhatana types, also on right-hand side of top row. See Kaspers (2018 this issue on dating such agate ornaments) on the Idar-Oberstein industry that made these ornaments. German and English terminology for these ornaments differ (Kaspers 2018, Liu 1977). The smaller talhatana, in either heat-treated or dyed forms are usually worn in the hair, but not by Tuareg, as are the small, molded Czech/Bohemian glass ones. Large Idar talhakimt are also worn by the Dogon, and the larger glass ones in Malian necklaces. Courtesy of the late J. L. Malter, R. Okrent, P.W. Schienerl; Abrima, the Picards, T. Stricker, L. Wataghani, and the Heimat Museum, Idar-Oberstein.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I thank Hillary and Abdou Louarti of Ethnic Embellishments for their informative identifications and comments about Tuareg jewelry, as well as permission to use images of pieces from their inventory and unique private collection and for their excellent photographs. Our study collection of Tuareg jewelry purchased in 1994-95 from Jürgen Busch and Gudrun Kerschna, as well as their gifts, have enabled me to more closely study the personal adornment of this culture. The jewelry shown in this article were documented from the mid-1970s to now. I am very grateful to Dr. Jan Fahey for obtaining a copy of Gabus’s superb 1982 reference on the Sahara for our library; it remains the definitive work on Tuareg jewelry and techniques, covering mid-to-late twentieth century French expeditions.

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bartholomew, T.T. 2006 Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art. San Francisco, Asian Art Museum: 352 p.
Benesh-Liu, P.R. and R.K. Liu. 2007 Museum News: The Art of Being Tuareg. Ornament 30 (3): 70-72. 
Bernasek, L. 2008 Artistry of the Everyday. Beauty and Craftsmanship in Berber Art. Peabody Museum Press, Harvard University: 125 p.
Camps-Fabrer, H. 1990 Bijoux Berbères D’Algérie. grande Kbylie-Aurès. La Calade, Édisud: 139 p.
Chakour, D. et. al. 2016 Des Trésors à Porter. Bijoux et Parures du Maghreb. Collection J.-F. et M.-L. Bouvier. Paris, Institute du monde arabe: 160 p.
Cheminée, M. 2014 Legacy. Jewelry Techniques of West Africa. Brunswick, Brynmorgen Press: 232 p.
Creyaufmüller, W. 1983 Agades cross pendants. Structural components & their modifications. Part I. Ornament 7(2): 16-21, 60-61.
     — 1984 Agades cross pendants. Structural components & their modifications. Part II. Ornament 7(3): 37-39.
Fisher, A. 1984 Africa Adorned. New York, Harry N. Abrams: 304 p.
Gabus, J. 1982 Sahara. bijoux et techniques. Neuchâtel, A la Baconnièré: 508 p.
Kalter, J. 1976 Schmuck aus Nordafrika. Stuttgart, Linden-Museum Stuttgart and Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde: 120 p.
Leurquin, A. 2003 A World of Necklaces. Africa, Asia, Oceania, America from the Ghysels Collection. Milan, Skira, Skira Editore S.p.A.: 464 p.
Liu, R. K. 1977 T’alhakimt (Talhatana), a Tuareg Ornament: Its Origins, Derivatives, Copies and Distribution. The Bead Journal 3 (2): 18-22.
     —1987 India, Idar-Oberstein and Czechoslovakia. Imitators And Competitors. Ornament 10 (4): 56-61.
     —1995a Collectibles: Mauritanian Amulets and Crosses. Ornament 19(1): 28-29.
     —1995b Collectible Beads. A Universal Aesthetic. Vista, Ornament, Inc.: 256 p.
     —2002 Rings from the Sahara and Sahel. Ornament 25 (4): 86-87.
     —2008 Mauritanian Conus Shell Disks. A comparison of Ancient and Ethnographic Ornaments. Ornament 32 (1): 56-59.
     —2017 Ethnographic Arts: Jewelers at the International Folk Art Market. Ornament 40 (1): 62-64.
Loughran, K. and C. Becker. 2008 Desert Jewels. North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermès Collection. New York, Museum for African Art: 95 p.
Schienerl, P.W. 1986 The Twofold Roots of Tuareg Charm-cases. Ornament 9(4): 54-57.
Van Cutsem, A. 2000 A World of Rings. Africa, Asia, America. Milan, Skira: 230 p.

 

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Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament, for many years its in-house photographer, as well as a jeweler using alternative materials like bamboo and polyester. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry, ancient Egyptian jewelry, and the worldwide trade in beads. In this issue Liu discusses some aspects of Tuareg jewelry, based in part on the inventory and private collection of Ethnic Embellishments.

Idar-Oberstein Volume 40.3

GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY BEAD SAMPLE CARD, showing a wide range of Idar-Oberstein agate ornaments, including some rarely seen in the African trade. The top row displays talhakimt, turmrings and simulations of feline claws.

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Beads from Idar-Oberstein are easy to spot. Whether they are part of a Mauritanian headdress, prayer beads from Mecca or a strand from a West African market, they have a standard set of characteristics—striped dark brown, black or orange stones, cut in a variety of distinct shapes and made with great skill and precision.

      A German town of about thirty thousand people, Idar-Oberstein has been known throughout history as a place of stones, with local deposits of mostly low grade agate, jasper and other semiprecious stones. When it comes to bead history specifically, the town is almost synonymous with a wide array of agate beads that were traded to African and Arab countries. Though these stones were probably used since Roman times, the first documented proof of stonecutting in Idar-Oberstein dates from the fifteenth century. This was not a source of much income though. Due to economic hardship in the 1800s, growing numbers of Germans from this region settled in Brazil searching for opportunities. In 1827, a group of stonecutters from Idar who had settled in Brazil found local Brazilian agate deposits. The first shipment of rough stones arrived in Idar-Oberstein in 1834 and led to the very successful production and trade of Idar-Oberstein agates. 

STONECUTTER AT WORK. Stonecutting was hard work, abetted by having to lie down and push against the grindstone. Young workers risked a deformed chest. In general, the lifespan of the workers was short. Photograph from early 1900s. ROUGH BRAZILIAN AGATE STONE BOULDERS brought into Idar-Oberstein, from early 1900s. Photographs courtesy of Floor Kaspers.

 
 

      The rough stones from Brazil were auctioned in Idar-Oberstein. They were sorted, weighed and small pieces were cut off to show the natural color and banding. At first, a lot of the stones were cut and set in gold jewelry; later on, they were mostly made into loose agate objects, like beads and pendants for a foreign market. The agate from Brazil proved tough competition for the Indian agate. As a result, the agate trade from India slowed down and production and wealth in Idar-Oberstein grew quickly.

NEWER PRODUCTION TALHAKIMTS, TALHATANAS AND TURMRINGS, IMPEXCO COMPANY. Germans call these turmrings, although English terminology distinguishes them as three types. The rounded “soft” edges indicate tumble polishing and therefore are newer pendants, dating from the 1960s.

      Trade companies were set up in the mid-1800s to serve the market for stone beads. An example is Gebrüder Wild, a company established in 1858—the firm was known around the world for their production of African jewelry. Harald Wild, from the company, in describing the process says, “The traders brought all the craftsmen together. Before the arrival of Brazilian agate, there really was not much of a professional industry. The traders managed to get the cutters, drillers, polishers, and the women stringing the beads working together. Companies like Gebrüder Wild would give orders to the different craftsmen to produce certain goods, which would then be exported in bulk.”

The traders brought examples of designs in agate to Cairo, even though it was not real carnelian; but the color was good, and so it was held in high regard (Spittler, 2002). In the second half of the twentieth century, the trade was more and more done by the Africans themselves.

BEAD SAMPLE CARD FROM THE GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY, of hand-polished talhakimt, with sharp edges, thus pre-1960s. The blue agate examples have not been seen in the African trade.

Many of the bead merchants traded in a great variety of items, and they cooperated with other European beadmaking places. For example, they would let the people in Gablonz (Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) make glass copies of the agate beads. These copies were sent to Idar-Oberstein and traded together with the agate beads. Examples are the talhakimt pendants. Their design was patented by German cutters, and then the makers in Gablonz were given permission to make the same designs in glass. Since the 1980s, the demand for stone beads in Africa has declined.

The coloring is what really set the beads apart from those coming from India. The rough material, agate, is a striped or banded version of chalcedony. In nature, different metals produce different colors, and the resulting agates are called sardonyx, chrysoprase, carnelian, or onyx, depending on their color. 

Artificial coloring techniques were already used in antiquity, but the Germans managed to perfect it. Brown was made by soaking the stone in a sugar solution and then heating it, turning the sugar into a dark brown caramel with white stripes. Black “onyx” was made by putting the stone in sulfuric acid and sugar and then heating it (Francis, 1994). The sugar would get carbonized. Each color had its own recipe. As Si Frazier referenced in Beads (1999): “It was found that certain types of Brazilian agate were eminently suited for staining. The agate could be turned red, white, blue, green, black, or yellow using inorganic chemicals, colors which would not fade in the harsh sunlight of Africa or the Middle East. The recipes were regarded as highly important trade secrets.”

The people from Idar-Oberstein refer to the coloring techniques as brennen (heating or burning), färben (coloring or dyeing) and beitzen (often translated as staining, but a different, more permanent, technique). Different processes produce different colors. Most of these techniques were developed in Idar-Oberstein between 1813 and 1879 (Trebbin, 1985).

The stones would be cut into smaller pieces, and these pieces were pre-cut into the basic shapes. For this first step, it was easier and cheaper to use a hammer and chisel to shape the stone, because grinding is more time-consuming. For big beads and other products, the stone was shaped directly on the wheel. Smaller pieces, like cabochons, would be stuck onto a wooden handle so they could be ground against the wheel. 

Idar-Oberstein cutters used large stone wheels that could be up to two meters wide and weigh up to three hundred kilos. Generally, two people would work on a wheel powered by a water mill. Some of the wheels had grooves to make specific shapes like round, oval and bicone roughs. Stonecutting was not an easy or a healthy profession. The cutters would lie on a wooden bench, pushing the stone against the wheel (Frazier, 1999). 

The final step on the wheels was the polishing which was done on beechwood cylinders, with earth as the abrasive agent. From the 1960s onwards, most of the polishing, especially on beads with simple shapes, was by tumbling. Instead of individually polishing the stone they were tumbled together, which is a much more efficient but a less precise process. It is also a way to distinguish the older beads from the newer ones. The beads with sharp edges are most likely made before 1960.

 
 

Left to right: BARREL OF ROUGH UNTREATED AGATE at the Impexco Company in Idar-Oberstein. HEATING A POTFUL OF AGATE BEAD ROUGHS on the stove, part of small scale treatment of agate to arrive at the orange/carnelian color, at the Impexco Company. UNTREATED AGATE with pieces core-drilled for bead blanks. Note the gray color versus that of the treated bead blanks in right-hand photograph. HALF-FINISHED BEAD BLANKS from Idar-Oberstein, ready to be drilled, cut or polished, already treated to reveal the intricate banding patterns. Courtesy of Floor Kaspers Collection.

 
 

BULK STRAND OF AGATE TALHAKIMT PENDANTS, as well as other stone and glass beads from the African trade, from a West-African vendor at a recent African Art Village Show, Tucson, Arizona. These talhakimt appear to be pre-1960s, as indicated by the series of small cuts or nicks along their edges.

      The trade and production of agate beads in Idar-Oberstein took off once the companies discovered a Brazilian agate source. The skill of the craftsmen, the quality of the stone, the use of international trade routes, and adapting to the world market was how Idar-Oberstein became a very successful beadmaking town.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Much help in the research of stone beadmaking in Idar-Oberstein has come from Harald and Julia Wild, Wolfgang Weinz and Wolfgang Kley. Support has come from the Bead Society of Los Angeles.


REFERENCES
Dalarozière, Marie-Françoise. 1994 Perles d’Afrique. Édisud, Aix-en-Provence, France.
Dubin, Lois Sherr. 1987 The history of beads, from 30,000 BC to the present. Harry N. Abrams Inc, New York, USA.
Francis, Peter Jr. 1994 Beads of the world, a collector’s guide with price reference. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, USA.
     —2001 The stone bead industry of southern India. Beads, Volume 12-13.
Frazier, Si. 1999 A history of gem beadmaking in Idar-Oberstein. Beads, Volume 10-11.
Kaspers, Floor. 2016 Beads from Germany, Idar-Oberstein, Lauscha, Neugablonz. Marblings Publishing, Netherlands.
Liu, Robert K. 1982 Amira Francoise: Living with beads in the Sudan. Ornament 5 (4): 24-27. 
     — 1987 Imitators and Competitors, India, Idar-Oberstein and Czechoslovakia. Ornament 10 (4): 56-61.
     —1995 Collectible beads, A Universal Aesthetic. Ornament, Vista, USA.
Spittler, Gerd. 1999 Der Weg des Achats zu den Tuareg-eine Reise um die halbe Welt. Geographische Rundschau, Jahrgang 54, Heft 10.
Trebbin, C. 1985 Achate, geschliffen in Idar-Oberstein – Amulette, Schmuck und Zahlungsmittel in Afrika. Die Heimatfreunde Oberstein e.V., Idar-Oberstein.
Wild, Julia. 2016 Afrikanisches Geld aus Idar-Oberstein. Simurg, Kulturzeitschrift, Heft 6.

 

BEAD SAMPLES FROM THE GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY traded to Mecca at the turn of twentieth century. Many were used in the Sudan, some repaired with silver caps when the ends broke (Liu 1982).

 
 

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Floor-Kaspers_Contributor.jpg

Floor Kaspers is an independent bead researcher and artist from the Netherlands. She has been exploring European bead history through her travels. By going to factories, old dump sites, shops and museums, she collects not just beads, but the stories connected to beads. After learning more about bead history, she also started making her own beadwork and glass art as a new way to explore the medium of beads and glass. Kaspers has written several books, including Beads from Germany which describes the development and production of beads in three German bead towns: Lauscha, Idar-Oberstein and Neugablonz. In the article on stone beads from Idar-Oberstein she explains the origin of the stones, the designs and the techniques of these typical agate trade beads.

JOLI! Sierra Leone Headdresses Volume 39.3

JOLI! A Fancy Masquerade From Sierra Leone

The Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, is extremely fortunate to have a rare group of eleven Joli headdresses from Sierra Leone, which are on view in the museum’s Focus Gallery through July 16, 2017. Joli headdresses are among the most complex and elaborately configured masquerade structures we know from sub-Saharan Africa, and the Joli masquerade was performed only in the port city of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, during the 1970s.

      Following Sierra Leone’s independence, achieved in 1961 after over one hundred fifty years of British colonial rule, a wave of young migrants from the countryside—mostly members of the Temne ethnic group—moved to Freetown in hopes of finding greater opportunities and a better future. This gave rise to socioeconomic concerns about how best to integrate this influx of newly arrived young people into the city. Charitable organizations in Freetown—among them the Zorrow Unity Society and the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA)—offered them food and shelter. These organizations also sponsored a variety of guided activities to help them adjust to urban life.

MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, fringe, braid, polyurethane foam, metal, 58.4 x 55.9 x 68.6 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s. Images courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

      Notable among these efforts was the sponsorship of masquerades. Zorrow Unity and YMMA formed the Joli Society to produce a citywide parade festival to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, as well as other festive occasions. Members of the society were tasked with helping to create the spectacular headdresses that they would wear during these occasions. The word “fancy,” used to describe the events, seems to have come from its appearance in advertisements for yardage in local newspapers, as ornate brocades, damask, lace, and fringe were key materials used to create Joli headdresses. The term may also have entered the lexicon because “fancy costumes” were worn at balls during the British colonial era.

Deeper antecedents of the Joli masquerade may reside in a lantern festival celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that seems to have originated in the 1930s and may have been inspired by a Gambian festival celebrating the Christmas season. Over time, the handheld lanterns morphed into large motorized floats constructed with bent and twisted wire, bamboo and wood. These wire frameworks were covered with layers of fabric and paper. In the 1970s Joli headdresses were made using the same materials and techniques and adopted many of the themes that had been used in the floats, becoming a sort of portable equivalent. The elusive water spirit Mami Wata, who represents beauty and fertility, was frequently represented on headdresses. She often wears an elaborate crown, which may represent her own power or be a holdover from British royal iconography. A rampant lion and unicorn, symbols of the British crown, are also commonly featured on Joli headdresses. As Sierra Leone was and still is predominantly Muslim, it is not surprising that superstructures also portray mosques or Al-Buraq, the magical horse with a human face who carried Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. Elephants, biplanes and other fanciful imagery are also common.

X-RAY OF MASQUERADE HEADDRESS shown above depicting the structural engineering of the object primarily using wires of different gauges. CT scan and X-Ray made possible with the cooperation of the UCLA Radiology Department, Translational Research Imaging Center.    

      Joli headdresses were produced in several stages, each undertaken by individuals with different skills. During the course of exhibition preparation and research, the Fowler arranged with the UCLA Radiology Department, Translational Research Imaging Center, to have one of its headdresses examined using Computed Tomography (CT), which employs computer-processed combinations of many X-ray images taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images, allowing the viewer to see inside an object without cutting or dismantling.

As the CT scan reveals, the first and innermost layer provided the headdress’s structural foundation or armature and was made from bent and twisted wire of different gauges. A second layer was composed primarily of polyurethane padding, which was in turn overlaid with a wide array of materials: cloth printed with floral motifs or animal prints, gingham, shimmering brocades, lush velvets, beaded veils, and embellishments including Christmas tinsel, garlands, plastic flowers, cowrie shells, fringes, rickrack, lace, and mirrors.

One or more wooden masks were attached to the fancy superstructure, giving a face to the Joli headdress. The coiffures of these carved wooden masks were painted a high-luster black, which helped to reflect the light, and the use of pink, violet, red, and other vibrant colors to paint their faces is evocative of masking traditions of southeastern Nigeria, especially those of the Ibibio peoples. The entire headdress was worn on top of the head. The Joli masquerade performer completed the ensemble with a full-body costume made of printed cloth, with white gloves and knee-high white socks to cover his hands and feet.

MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, tinsel, fringe, ribbon, metal, 91.5 x 68.6 x 55.8 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s. MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, tinsel mirrors, fringe, ribbon, metal, 64.7 x 53.3 x 16.73 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s. MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, tinsel, fringe, ribbon, metal, 91.5 x 68.6 x 55.8 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s.

 

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Gassia Armenian is Curatorial and Research Associate and Editorial Assistant at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she conducts collections and database research to facilitate curatorial and scholarly endeavors and manages various aspects of planning and organizing museum exhibitions. Prior to her work at the Fowler Museum, Armenian was a Consultant-Project Coordinator at the US Agency for International Development—for Junior Achievement of Armenia where she developed and implemented civics-education training programs and teaching methodologies for principals and teachers from the Republic of Armenia in the United States and in Armenia. In this issue, she writes about the Fowler’s exhibition on Sierra Leone headdresses.

Vlisco. African Fashion Volume 39.3

African Fashion
On A Global Stage

We tend to talk about “globalization” as though it were a relatively recent development in our history. Particularly in relation to the textile industry, it is also seen (often justifiably) as an exploitative process aimed at producing cheap wearable goods for mass consumption in the West. The reality, of course, is that it is older and more complex than we imagine and can sometimes involve connections forged over many decades among far-flung cultures, leading to creative collaborations that reflect both global networks and local and regional innovations.

      A case in point is Vlisco, the Dutch company whose vibrant textiles, based on Indonesian batik wax-resist techniques for printing color on cotton cloth, have for a century and a half enjoyed enormous popularity throughout West Africa. In the hands of local dressmakers, these Dutch Wax (or Wax Hollandaise) prints are transformed into gorgeously designed garments that reflect the tastes, traditions and trends of the region’s various cultures.

A generous sampling of the products of this intercontinental collaboration can be found in “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage,” on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through January 22, 2017. The show is a key component of “Creative Africa,” a suite of exhibitions at the museum surveying African art across multiple mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, and textiles, with an emphasis on the contemporary.

 

To Read The Full Article

 
 

David Updike is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. A regular contributor to Ornament, he most recently previewed the 2016 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. In these pages, he reviews “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage,” an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that showcases the creative synergy of West African fashion designers crafting beautiful formal wear from “Dutch Wax” printed textiles. Next up in Ornament is Updike’s feature article on jeweler Barbara Heinrich from Pittsford, New York.