This summer the Philadelphia Museum of Art is featuring art, textiles, design and architecture from Africa. Starting with a loan exhibition from the Penn Museum’s distinguished collection of African materials, the exhibits feature contemporary photography, fashion, textile design, and architecture, as well as traditional textiles and ritual objects. I know almost nothing about Africa, so I learned much about the people and culture of this fascinating continent.
I found particular inspiration in the many examples of geometric patterning used across many materials: Kuba textiles, contemporary wax printed textiles, complex strip-woven kente cloths made by the Asante and Ewe of Ghana, an impressive resist-dyed display textile (or ndop) from Cameroon, and raffia skirts that the Kuba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo make with piecing, appliqué, and embroidery.
These simple geometric patterns are widely used across many cultures and eras. These patterns are a vehicle to show growth & change, unity & order. These patterns and motifs are ancient, and contemporary makers continue to use them in a modern context of cultural exchange, new materials, changing social needs, and inspiration.
These patterns speak to me as an artist and designer who came of age in post-industrial America. The use of a shared visual language is a way of sharing our common humanity across time and continents.
Entrance banner in the atrium of the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The black and white triangular motif announces the importance of geometric patterning in the arts of Africa.
Ceremonial belt with intricate geometric design in black and white beads, collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Prestige Panel from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.