Social Fabric: African Textiles Today

Tour schedule

Powell-Cotton Museum, Kent 
14 February 2015 – 17 May 2015

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter 
26 May 2015 – 6 September 2015

Ipswich Museum 
September 2015 – January 2016

William Morris Gallery, London 
20 February – 29 May 2016

Recommend this exhibition

Social Fabric explores the history, manufacture and social significance of African printed and factory-woven textiles, the designs of which mirror the convergence of African tastes and patronage with strong historical and contemporary trading ties from across the globe.

The textiles in the exhibition originate from eastern and southern African, including kanga from Kenya and Tanzania, capulana from Mozambique, and shweshwem from southern Africa. These objects have the ability to reflect changing times, fashions and tastes and provide a detailed chronology of the social, political, religious, emotional and sexual concerns of the (mainly) women who wear them. Their patterns and inscriptions vary according to the age of the wearer and the context in which the cloth is worn and represent an unspoken language that may be used to suggest thoughts and feelings which cannot be spoken. They are worn in secular and sacred contexts and play a central role in all of the major rite-of-passage ceremonies. These textiles have influenced some of the region’s foremost contemporary artists and photographers, some of whose art works will be accompanying the exhibition.

Cotton cloth (kanga) printed predominantly in red and black on white ground. Depicts black and white photographic image of Barack Obama in centre of cloth. Flanked on either side by map of African continent in blue, green and white with black outlines. Border on all four sides of cloth has repeating design of four heart-shaped patterns on a red and white checked background. Slogans printed in KiSwahili. Double width kanga.