Command Performance: Kuba Cloths from Central Africa

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    Panel From Ceremonial Overskirt. Democratic Republic of the Congo, 20th century. Raffia palm fiber, plain weave, appliqué. Purchase, 1986 (5653.1)

February 07, 2013 - July 21, 2013
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

The people of the Kuba Kingdom, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, made textiles that were so highly coveted that they were referred to as the “people of the cloth.” The Kuba wove the leaves of the raffia palm (Raphia textilis) into textiles for ceremonial court adornment, prestigious cloths for negotiating social status, and performance and dance regalia. Women employing distinctive hand-stitched embroidery, appliqué, or cut pile techniques embellished the plain cloths that were traditionally woven by men.

Rhythmic, kinetic patterns, interlocking tessellated compositions, malleable shapes and linear accents are subject to random interactions and multi-directional arrangements. One of the most recognizable symbols in Kuba art is Woot, the first man, or the royal ancestor in Kuba myth. Two other signs of prestige are the royal knot, imbol, or the three-stranded braid, nnam. The Kuba aesthetic is marked by deliberate contrasts in surface textures, colors and lines, the interplay of geometry, symmetry, juxtaposition and aesthetic preferences masterfully configured into sophisticated, complex abstractions.