Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Closer Look at Kuba Cloth

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Kuba applique cloth is a traditional royal textile from the Kuba kingdom of the east central Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the founding of the empire by the Bushoong people in the early 1600s, each new king would be responsible for introducing new patterns that were invented by, and named after designers, and was an honored achievement. Hundreds of royal patterns are known today and are collaboratively made.

Men weave raffia fiber on a loom and women applique cut shapes of raffia textile, tie-dye, or embroider fibers that are cut to create a cut-pile, velvety surface. The abstract shapes, arranged in bold designs, appear to be in a regular pattern, but actually embrace an asymmetrical composition. Similar patterns can be found on woven panels used in architecture, woven mats, and even carved wood objects such as court containers and masks. The British Museum has a wonderful example of a partially woven cloth pre-applique on a loom which you can see here.

The cloth was once only worn by members of the royal court for ceremonial events and would have been wrapped several times around the waist as a skirt, making the wearer appear larger than life as well as publicly announcing their status. Textiles are kept in the family treasury, used in gift giving, and presented at funerals for important members of the kingdom, and were traditionally used as currency.

Today, Kuba textiles are produced for local use, exported, sold to art collectors, and is heralded as one of the great international abstract art forms. To learn more about Kuba cloth and its history, check out the collection by The Metropolitan Museum of Art here. The Met shows various forms of the artwork, exhibitions and an art history timeline.

We have only one Kuba cloth in its original form as a textile in the shop. The others have been made into magnificent feather-filled pillows as you can see below. Click through to see the entire collection.

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