Traditional Aesthetics, Contemporary Art, Recycling

A mission of is to know and understand the past inorder to make sense of the present, so that we may move forward with knowledge, purpose, and clarity of thought. Artists do this as part of their craft. Some work in traditional formats (painting, sculpting, writing, weaving, potting) using old techniques; others experiment. Some artists create entirely new media in which to express their thoughts and comments about the times and places in which they reside. Regardless, there is no getting away from the past whether they/we embrace, rebel, or think we can ignore it.

This process is exemplified by looking at Kuba cloth made across central Africa; quilts made in Gee's Bend, Alabama; clothing fabric in Ghana; and at a solo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC of work by the artist El Anatsui of Ghana. The notion of recycling also enters into this discussion: ideas being recycled into different aesthetics/forms; re-using materials to create new art.

Multi-patterned Kuba cloth
Kuba textiles are "woven from the fib of the Raphia Vinifera Palm. Production of these textiles is a multiple stage process which involves the participation of children, men and women of the same clan. The process includes gathering and preparing the raffia fibers for weaving and embroidery, weaving the basic cloth unit, dyeing the embroidery fibers, and embellishing the woven cloth with embroidery, applique, patchwork and dye." The cloths are made in a variety of rectangles and squares that can be combined to make skirts and coverings, household uses of various types. As people's body shapes change (e.g. pregnancy) or sections of a large item wear out, recycling takes place as new sections are added.

A Gee's Bend Quilt
The women of Gee's Bend have been making quilts for generations. By definition, a quilt is made from recycled fabric and clothing items. Quilts are also an excellent medium for telling a family's story. These women have had their quilts exhibited all across the country, from major art museums to galleries in Seattle.
Listen to a story about these amazing artists on NPR, here.
Notice the relationships between the quilt on the pillow below.
Kuba cloth pillow
To see more images of Kuba cloth and to explore the similarities in design and patterns, click on this link. The Textile Museum in Washington, DC had a major exhibit of Kuba Textiles and Weaving. The book produced for the exhibit can be found on their website or through an Amazon banner at (a portion of the sale will benefit The book is magnificent!

"Earth Skin" 2007 El Anatsui
This brings us to the artist El Anatsui, currently exhibiting at the Brooklyn Museum. He "converts found materials into a new type of media that lies between sculpture and painting, combining aesthetic traditions from his birth country, Ghana; his home in Nsukka, Nigeria; and the global history of abstraction." The New York Times art critics Holland Cotter and Karen Rosenberg both reviewed his show. The photographs at each of the above three links will take your breathe away!

Fabric from Ghana
Looking back and forth from each one of these photographs, it is impossible not to see a link, a lineage through time, geography,culture, and aesthetics. The patterns, colors, stories, possess a commonality but have been created in unique circumstance very far from each other, with different intended uses.  What will the next generation of artists take from what they have seen and learned? How will they recycle materials into objects of beauty? Objects of utility?

1 comment:

  1. I love seeing the variety of different fabrics all around the world. Recycling of materials also helps make even more materials.


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