Cultures & Traditions

African Textiles

African visual arts have undoubtedly inspired Western artists and textile, furniture, household, and fashion designers to create works of art and consumer products. Numerous instances come to mind: Picasso's Bust [1987.399.FA] borrows elements from a Baga D'mba mask [1974.SC.18], Cosima von Bonin's RORSHACHTEST #4 [2007.56] incorporates a kikoi cloth worn by East African coastal peoples, Pierre-Emile Legrain's art deco seating replicates ceremonial chairs and stools of the Ngbombe, Fon, and Chokwe peoples, and Norma Kamali's and Emmanuel Ungaro's day and evening wear of the 1970s and 2000s, respectively, integrates bologon textile designs of the Dogon peoples (Mali).

Kuba textiles, exemplified by this cut-pile panel, have long captured the imagination of a host of designers since at least the early twentieth century [2007.50.6]. For example, Kuba textiles included in a 1923 African art exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum (then called the Brooklyn Institute Museum) inspired textile designs for women's dresses sold by Bonwit Teller and Company. The dresses were displayed in the store's window and a duplicate set was installed at the museum. The cloths—which the Kuba and related groups traditionally used as currency, elements of ceremonial dress, and shrouds for the dead—reappeared in the European and American art markets in the 1960s during the clashes between various African peoples in the then Congo. This was also the period of Black is Beautiful in the United States, and the cloth became one of the symbols of Black Pride. Fashionable again and again, stylized Kuba textile designs have been reproduced on stationery and household linens and furnishings, such as those manufactured by Canon in the 1960s, Martex in the 1970s, Tufenkian carpets, and Ralph Lauren's elaborate African Collection in the 1990s and 2000s.

Excerpt from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 290-293.

  • Add to, Take Away: Artistry and Innovation in African Textiles, Dallas Museum of Art, 2014-2015.

Related Multimedia

Gallery talk by Dr. Roslyn Walker, Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, DMA

Web Resources