This creative project opened up our African collections as an inspirational resource for students at Edinburgh College of Art.

Organisers: Sarah Worden, Senior Curator, African Collections, National Museums Scotland and Lindy Richardson Programme Director, Textiles, Edinburgh College of Art.

One of the sights that really strikes you in many African countries is the wide spread use of mass produced brightly coloured printed cloths: worn as wrappers, used as baby carriers, to transport provisions and always visible in some use or another. It is a practical, low cost and available example of creativity, social comment and a highly visible expression of material culture worn every day, and to celebrate special occasions.

Amongst the primarily floral and geometric multi coloured designs are a significant category of designs commissioned by political, religious and non- governmental groups as promotional material to be distributed or sold to the public. There are also cloths commissioned to commemorate famous people and events.  These cloths, known as commemorative textiles or cloths are a highly visible expression of shared community identity and concerns.

Sarah Worden, Senior Curator of the African collections, has been researching and collecting examples through fieldwork and donations since 2009. In 2014 her research in Malawi and presentation at the 14th Textile Society of America symposium were supported by awards from Art Fund Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants.

  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate Nigerian Independence: Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, 1960.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate Nigerian Independence: Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, 1960.
  • Cotton cloth printed to celebrate first President Kaunda of Zambia following Independence in 1964: Africa, Southern Africa, Zambia, 1964.

    Cotton cloth printed to celebrate first President Kaunda of Zambia following Independence in 1964: Africa, Southern Africa, Zambia, 1964.
  • Cotton cloth printed to celebrate Christmas: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.

    Cotton cloth printed to celebrate Christmas: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.
  • Cotton cloth printed with the Virgin Mary, commemorating the Catholic faith: Africa, Southern Africa, Zambia, Lusaka, 2010.

    Cotton cloth printed with the Virgin Mary, commemorating the Catholic faith: Africa, Southern Africa, Zambia, Lusaka, 2010.
  • Cotton cloth printed for The Forum for Democracy and Development political party: Africa, Southern Africa, Zambia, 2001.

    Cotton cloth printed for The Forum for Democracy and Development political party: Africa, Southern Africa, Zambia, 2001.
  • Cotton cloth commissioned by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian to commemorate 150 years since the arrival of Scottish missionary David Livingstone in Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2009.

    Cotton cloth commissioned by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian to commemorate 150 years since the arrival of Scottish missionary David Livingstone in Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2009.
  • Cotton cloth printed to raise awareness of urban road signs: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.

    Cotton cloth printed to raise awareness of urban road signs: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.
  • Cotton cloth printed with map of Africa surrounded by the National flags of Africa: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1994-2000.

    Cotton cloth printed with map of Africa surrounded by the National flags of Africa: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1994-2000.
  • Cotton cloth printed to celebrate and support Nigeria and Cameroon in the World Cup 1994: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1994.

    Cotton cloth printed to celebrate and support Nigeria and Cameroon in the World Cup 1994: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1994.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate issue of new bank notes: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1991.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate issue of new bank notes: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1991.
  • Cotton cloth printed with a representation of the Last Supper with Jesus and the twelve apostles, commemorating the Christian faith: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.

    Cotton cloth printed with a representation of the Last Supper with Jesus and the twelve apostles, commemorating the Christian faith: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.
  • Cotton cloth printed with the national flag of Mozambique: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.

    Cotton cloth printed with the national flag of Mozambique: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, c.1994.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate Zambian participation in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations: Africa, Central Africa, Zambia, 2012.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate Zambian participation in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations: Africa, Central Africa, Zambia, 2012.
  • Cloth commissioned as political campaign cloth by the People's Party: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2014.

    Cloth commissioned as political campaign cloth by the People's Party: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2014.
  • Cotton cloth commissioned by the Catholic Women Organisation in Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2014.

    Cotton cloth commissioned by the Catholic Women Organisation in Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2014.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate Mother’s Day: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2013.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate Mother’s Day: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 2013.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Republic of Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, Blantyre, 1986.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Republic of Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, Blantyre, 1986.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate 'Nigeria100', marking the centenary of the merger between Northern and Southern Nigeria: Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, 2014.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate 'Nigeria100', marking the centenary of the merger between Northern and Southern Nigeria: Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, 2014.
  • Cotton cloth commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria to commemorate the centenary of the arrival of Scottish missionary Mary Slessor in Calabar: Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, 1976.

    Cotton cloth commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria to commemorate the centenary of the arrival of Scottish missionary Mary Slessor in Calabar: Africa, West Africa, Nigeria, 1976.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the formation of the Republic of Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 1966.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the formation of the Republic of Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 1966.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the formation of the Republic of Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 1966.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the formation of the Republic of Malawi: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 1966.
  • Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the centenary of The World Day of Prayer: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 1997.

    Cotton cloth printed to commemorate the centenary of The World Day of Prayer: Africa, Southern Africa, Malawi, 1997.


You can find out more about portrait cloths from Malawi in this Explore story.

The project

A recent project between Edinburgh School of Art and the Museum draws on this growing collection, as a source of inspiration for 2nd year textile design students to each create a length of their own design printed cotton commemorative style cloth. In October 2016, thirteen students, with Programme Director Lindy Richardson, made a visit to the National Museums Collection Centre, where I introduced them to a range of cloths, predominantly collected from Malawi and Mozambique.

ECA students at the National Museums Collection Centre

Above: ECA students at the National Museums Collection Centre studying the African cloths, October 2016.

Taking inspiration from the visit, the aim was to create their own unique design to reflect their personal preoccupations and interests with contemporary, social issues ranging from famous individuals to events of today. The students have not disappointed! A rich and varied range of designs with powerful messages have been created, which they have transferred to the cloth.

The cloths designed for the project.

Above: A selection of cloths designed for the project.

You can find out more about the process on these blogs by Amelia Price and Amy Jackson, and on Jane Teed's Instagram feed.

The slideshow below shows a range of student cloths photographed in the ECA textile studio during the assessment of the students submission on 20 January 2017.

  • Syrian refugees and homelessness by Jane Teed

    Syrian refugees and homelessness by Jane Teed
  • William Shakespeare by Sophie Fields

    William Shakespeare by Sophie Fields
  • Raif Badawi, imprisoned for critical blogging, by Scott Young

    Raif Badawi, imprisoned for critical blogging, by Scott Young
  • The King of Thailand by Pangjee Punyashthiti

    The King of Thailand by Pangjee Punyashthiti
  • The Kim Kardashian robbery by Molly-Mae Briskett-Haigh

    The Kim Kardashian robbery by Molly-Mae Briskett-Haigh
  • Scotland’s endangered wildlife by Laurie Grant

    Scotland’s endangered wildlife by Laurie Grant
  • The way I dress is not a yes protest by Katherine Dalton

    The way I dress is not a yes protest by Katherine Dalton
  • Syrian people and their journey by sea, Freda Dubb

    Syrian people and their journey by sea, Freda Dubb
  • Child refugees and family separation by Francesca Smythe

    Child refugees and family separation by Francesca Smythe
  • Endangered animals of the world by Erica McClure

    Endangered animals of the world by Erica McClure
  • Celebrity culture by Eilidh Currie

    Celebrity culture by Eilidh Currie
  • Destruction of buildings and artefacts in Syria by Claudine Stallworthy-Stiles

    Destruction of buildings and artefacts in Syria by Claudine Stallworthy-Stiles
  • Equality and diversity by Amy Jackson

    Equality and diversity by Amy Jackson
  • Commemorating the Beatles by Amelia Price

    Commemorating the Beatles by Amelia Price
  • President of the United States, Donald Trump by Alisha Hunt

    President of the United States, Donald Trump by Alisha Hunt

What next?

The next phase of the project involves the students working with ECA designer Niki Taylor to create simple garments using zero waste pattern cutting techniques. The students will also be creating 3D accessories spawned from an initiative with the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The garments will be shown in the annual fashion show.

It is hoped that this collaborative project will be the first of many opportunities to engage new audiences with contemporary African arts, creating links across cultures and introducing the Museum’s African collections as an inspirational resource for students and researchers of material creativity. 

Header image: Commemorative cloth with photographic portraits of Princess Diana: Africa, Southern Africa, Mozambique, 1994-2000.

Explore more

Story
Portrait cloths from Malawi

Cotton cloths are a popular everyday item of clothing in Malawi and are produced in a wide variety of patterns and designs. They are also designed to mark social and political events.
More

Blog
Blog posts by Sarah Worden

Explore our African collections with Senior Curator Dr Sarah Worden.
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