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African textiles

Dr Sarah Worden

Dr Sarah Worden
Senior Curator, Africa Collections
Responsible for:: Collections from across sub-Saharan and North-east Africa.
Research interests: Textiles, clothing and adornment, especially Hausa of Northern Nigeria.

Sarah Worden is Curator of African Collections with a particular interest in textiles and the role of clothing and dress in the expression of identity.

She has a specialist interest in African textiles, with the role of textiles and dress in the material expression of social, political and religious identity being a particular focus. Her research includes the exploration of the relationships between historic and contemporary clothing practice, drawing on the NMS African textile collections as a framework to consider the impact of local and global influences on continuity and innovation of clothing styles. Sarah develops the contemporary textile collections with new acquisitions ranging from printed cottons to unique designer fashion, covering themes from political propaganda to eco-sustainability. The subject of her forthcoming publication is highlights of the African textile collection from the mid-19th century to the present.

Sarah is interested in developing curatorial partnerships and networks in Africa and the UK. International partnerships include a project working with museums in Maputo, Mozambique to investigate the role of printed cotton capulana cloth as material heritage among women in the fishing community of Katembe, Mozambique funded by AHRC and GCRF Rising from the Depths Network (2019-2021). This project follows earlier collections research, fieldwork and contemporary collecting in Uganda into the production and use of barkcloth (2016), and work with Museums of Malawi into the production and use of printed cotton chitenje cloth, both supported by funding from Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants (2012-2015). This led to projects with Edinburgh College of Art textile students working with NMS collections of printed textiles and barkcloth from east and southern Africa (2016/2019).

Sarah has curated NMS exhibitions highlighting other aspects of the African collections including The Art of African Metalwork (2019) and Dr Livingstone I Presume? (2013). Sarah is also active in curatorial research to decolonise and reinterpret the colonial and missionary collections from Africa, revealing and sharing untold stories, which include collaboration

with the University of Edinburgh to research the missionary collections from central Africa and associated library and missionary archives (2016).

Sarah joined the Department of World Cultures in 2006 as assistant curator for Africa, following completion of her doctorate ‘Robes of Honour: Hausa Textiles in the Liverpool Museum’ at University of East Anglia (UEA). She also holds a BA in Art History, Archaeology and Anthropology and MA in Advanced Studies in the Arts of Africa, Americas and Oceania from UEA.

2018. S. Worden & Richardson, L, ‘Communicating through cloth: From Malawi to Scotland, inspiring creative content in contemporary textile design across cultures’ in Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 31 (March 2018), pp. 129–148.

 2016. ‘Tradition and Transition: the changing fortunes of barkcloth in Uganda’ published Textile Society of America 2016 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: Crosscurrents, Land, Labor and the Port, Savannah, Georgia, 18-23 October 2016. · 2015. “Livingstone’s Loom”, Malawi. In: Trophies, relics and curios? Missionary heritage from Africa and the Pacific. Sidestone Press, Leiden, pp. 51-56. ISBN 9789088902710

 2015. Chitenje: The Production and Use of Printed Cotton Cloth in Malawi’ in Textile Society 14th Symposium proceedings, Digital

2013. Worden, S. & G.N. Swinney, Exhibiting Livingstone: A Life and Legacy on Display, Scottish Geographical Journal special issue (in press).

2013. Worden, S. ‘Exhibiting Livingstone’ at Imperial Obsessions: David Livingstone, Africa and World History - a Life and Legacy Reconsidered, International Academic Conference 19-21 April, Livingstone, Zambia.

2012. Worden, S., Ed. David Livingstone: Man, Myth and Legacy, National Museums Scotland Enterprises Publications, Edinburgh.

2010. Worden, S., Clothing and Identity: How can museum collections of Hausa textiles contribute to understanding the notion of Hausa Identity? in A. Haour and B. Rossi eds. ‘The Emergence of Hausa Identity: History and Religion’, Brill, pp.213-234.

For further publications see the National Museums Scotland Research Repository.

Cloth from Malawi

Blog posts by Sarah Worden

Read Dr Sarah Wordens posts on African cloth and collaborative projects and partnerships between Africa and the UK.

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