The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles / Recent Art presents some 60 contemporary paintings, sculptures, videos, and photographs by artists living in Africa and abroad alongside a selection of mid-20th-century and recent African textiles. Illuminating the connections and continuities between past and recent modes of African artistic expression, the exhibition also draws attention to vital and often exuberant African textile traditions which have too often been relegated to the long shadows cast by classical African sculpture.
In presenting a broad range of media and artistic approaches, The Poetics of Clothdemonstrates how a number of African artists—coming from different nations and cultural milieus—share a common engagement with one of the most fundamental forms of African expression. Juxtaposing contemporary African artworks with the textile traditions that inform them, The Poetics of Cloth focuses on key West African textile traditions including: Ghanaian kente and adinkra, Malian hunter’s tunics, factory-produced “fancy” and “wax” prints, indigo-dyed fabrics, and Nigerian Igbo wrappers borrowed from the Met, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, and private collections.
The 112-page catalogue accompanying the exhibition includes 48 color illustrations. In his essay “Seeing and Wearing: Textiles in West Africa” renowned Africanist scholar John Picton addresses the relationship between textile and dress, as well as aspects of pattern and texture, local and transnational histories. Award-winning Ghanaian poet Kofi Anyidoho contributes an essay titled “Ghanaian Kente: Cloth and Song.” Trained as a weaver, he describes the “rhythm-based aesthetics” of this “national cloth of Ghana” as well as the cultural and sociological aspects of textiles as clothing in Africa. An essay by Lynn Gumpert surveys the “contested territories” of exhibiting works by contemporary artists living in Africa and abroad, and examines issues surrounding the juxtaposition of recent work with “traditional” African arts. Finally, the book contains color plates of works by all 16 artists featured in The Poetics of Cloth with entries by Jennifer S. Brown, Lydie Diakhaté, Janet Goldner, Lynn Gumpert, John Picton, and Doran H. Ross.