In the countries of Ghana, Nigeria and Benin cloth design is a major part of the culture. Clothing people wear is bold, bright and flowing designed with bright colors printed, dyed, appliquéed and woven. Many of the designs used are symbolic showing who the wearer is, what their status is and what symbols are powerful to them. Art, in these countries is an integral part of the community and the artist holds a place of very high respect, adding beauty and power to every aspect of the life of the village. Art is not a separate discipline but is integral to the people’s responsibility to perpetuate the beauty and power of life.
In this section students will study and make 3 different designs, from 3 different West African countries in order to learn different techniques for decorating cloth. They will also gain an understanding of the meaning and use of symbols in creating works of art.
Adinkra cloth is made in Ghana. The design is formed by carving a calabash into a stamp, which is used to print a symbol onto cloth. the symbols are bold, clearly defined and simple. Adinkra means “good-bye,” it is the name of the dye used to print these symbols which were originally printed onto cloth to be used by mourners as they left a funeral.
Adire Eleko cloth is made in Nigeria by the Yoruba people. It is a fabric with intricate white designs that stand out against blue indigo dye. It is made by painting on a paste, traditionally made from cassava starch, which resists the dye when dipped into so that when the paste is removed the design stands out in white. The designs are a combination of geometric lines and shapes abstracted from nature.
The Fante group of the Akan people who live in Ghana near Benin make appliquéed banners and flags for traditional military associations called Asafo.. These flags and banners feature colorful animal and human figures appliquéed usually on both sides so that each side is identical. Asafo flags and banners were being used by these traditional associations long before the first Europeans arrived in Africa. The associations are open to all segments of society and a typical Fante town will have numerous associations. In elaborate performances the associations come together where members display their unique company colors, costumes, banners and flags designed to tell stories of the history of each association as well as show symbols of power important to them. They use symbols of sun and moon and stars and show influences of different religions within their society.
Section II—Art Activity
1. Students will make Adinkra cloth
2. Students will make Adire Eleko cloth
3. Students will make an appliqué flag in the style of the Asafo of the Akan
Muslin (enough for each student to have 3 equal rectangles—8”x11” is a good size)
black acrylic or fabric paint
fabric in varying solids
Each of these styles will be introduced through pictures and slides showing the actual cloth. Students will locate the countries and areas that each of these styles of fabric design come from on a map. We will discuss the symbols and what they mean, as well as how, when and where the cloth is worn/used.
Adinkra—Before beginning this project, positive and negative space must be introduced since the students will be creating their own stamp by pressing out the negative space in a square of Styrofoam. Students will then sketch the symbol they would like to make into a print. The next step is to draw this symbol in pen onto a Styrofoam plate, impressing the negative space of the design into the plastic. In the printmaking process they will use black acrylic on muslin. First they will make lines around the outside of their fabric. They will print their symbol within these lines by printing the straight edge of cardboard. Once the acrylic is thoroughly dried the fabric will be dyed..
Adire Eleko—After reviewing the geometric patterns and abstracted natural forms used by the Yoruba in this type of fabric design, students will sketch on paper their own designs to be put onto their cloth. Using a mixture of flour, alum and water made into a paste which is put into a squeeze bottle, they will squeeze the design onto their cloth, After these have dried thoroughly for a few days, they are dyed blue. The paste is scraped off the cloth revealing the design in white.
Akan Appliqué—After reviewing the types of symbols used by the Akan, students will sketch their appliqué design on paper. They will cut it out and use this as a pattern on colored cloth. This will be stitched onto a piece of muslin. Details can be added with other colored pieces of cloth added on and/or embroidered.
Each student will make their own individual square at each stage of this section. These could be framed individually or connected to others. For the sake of connecting these into a final project, muslin squares/rectangles should be cut into equally.
These three squares can be arranged into a class quilt. Or they could be exhibited individually.