African Textiles Today illustrates how African history is read, told, and recorded in cloth.
All artifacts or works of art hold within them stories that range far beyond the time of their creation or the lifetime of their creator, and African textiles are patterned with these hidden histories. In Africa, cloth may be used to memorialize or commemorate something - an event, a person, a political cause - which in other parts of the world might be written down in detail or recorded by a plaque or monument. History in Africa can be read, told, and recorded in cloth.
Making and trading numerous types of cloth have been vital elements in African life and culture for at least two millennia, linking different parts of the continent with each other and the rest of the world. Africa's long engagement with the peoples of the Mediterranean and the islands of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans provides a story of change and continuity. African Textiles Today shows how ideas, techniques, materials, and markets have adapted and flourished, and how the dynamic traditions in African textiles have provided inspiration for the continent's foremost contemporary artists and photographers. With a concluding chapter discussing the impact of African designs across the world, the book offers a fascinating insight into the living history of Africa.
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CHRIS SPRING is curator of the African collection at the British Museum. He is the author of numerous books on African art and culture, including African Arms and Armour, North African Textiles, and African Art in Detail.Review:
In this exciting work, Spring (British Museum), an active artist and curator of the British Museum’s African galleries, draws from that institution’s collections to present African textile expression “as a cyclical phenomenon in which past, present, and future are inextricably intertwined.” Across the continent’s many cultures, the author traces themes of communication, systems of belief, trade, and cultural exchange, national identity, power and status, empowerment, and the historical groundings of contemporary art through the “dynamic and fluid medium” of cloth. The result is a model of simultaneously syncretic and expansive scholarship: fresh, stimulating, solidly documented, and gorgeously illustrated. An important intellectual complement to such traditionally organized surveys as John Gillow’s excellent African Textiles (2003), the present work also provides conceptual support for more specialized monographs that focus on specific African textile forms in a global context (e.g., Doran Ross’s Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity, 1998). Written with clarity, passion, and deep subject knowledge, this feat of engaged curation dispels any dusty misconceptions about the nature of museum work today. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Especially for African studies or museum studies programs; lower-division undergraduates and above, and general readers. –K.S. Edwards, Clemson University
It is impossible to overstate the importance of textiles in African art, both traditionally and in the present day. Spring (African art, British Museum; African Art in Detail) has provided an excellent overview of the meanings and uses of textiles from all regions of the continent. Accompanied by color photographs of materials from the British Museum's collection, the text explains the various roles textiles play in African cultures. Chapters include "Textiles and Trade," "Textiles and Communication," and "African Textiles as Historical Documents." Spring's efforts to show how traditional cloths have inspired and been incorporated into contemporary African art demonstrate the vitality of these textile arts. VERDICT Anyone interested in textiles, clothing, and how an art form can be expressive for people at all levels of society will find this volume a valuable resource.—Eugene C. Burt, Seattle
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