The British Museum of London is a public institution under the auspices of Britain’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is divided into ten departments or sections: Africa, Oceania and the Americas; Ancient Egypt and Sudan; Asia; Coins and Medals; Greece and Rome; Middle East; Portable Antiquities and Treasure; Prehistory and Europe; Prints and Drawings; Conservation and Scientific Research.
The museum works with partners across Africa to conduct anthropological studies and fieldwork. Therefore, it is not surprising when an exhibition featuring African art opens to the public. Such was the case with Social fabric: Textiles from the South and East of Africa.
This exhibit explores the richness of African fabrics as a reflection of changing times, styles and tastes. “From eastern to southern Africa, the social and historical significance of these beautiful and diverse materials are also reflected in the identities of the those who use them”, reads the museum’s release.
With this exhibition, the British Museum takes a fresh look at the history, manufacture and social significance of these textiles, and their influence on the foremost contemporary artists of the region: Georgia Papageorge, Nel Karel, Kamwathi Peterson and Araminta de Clermont.
The selection includes textiles of incredible magnificence from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa. These fabrics mirror the history of the continent, but above all they provide a detailed chronology of the social, political, religious, emotional, even the sexuality of the people who wear them.
The language of textiles in Africa has its own codes; and this is more evident in those areas where people have a strong attachment to their origins and cultural roots. This unspoken language expresses regional differences in rites, ceremonies and celebrations. Without a doubt, in the case of Africa, it speaks about richness and exuberance. ■