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.
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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.