Dallas Museum of Art highlights African silk production

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) presents silk textiles from Ghana, Nigeria, and Madagascar in “Moth to Cloth: Silk in Africa.” The focused exhibition spotlights the centuries-old sub-Saharan tradition of African silk production through indigenous and imported practices. The lustrous fiber is used to create prestigious garments, often elaborately decorated and worn on ceremonial occasions.

The featured large-scale cloths from the Museum’s acclaimed permanent collection date from the late 19th to mid-20th century and were created by master weavers  and other specialists among the Asante peoples of Ghana; the Hausa, Nupe, and Yoruba peoples of  Nigeria; and the Malagasy peoples of Madagascar.

“Moth to Cloth”

The exhibition was curated by Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, the DMA’s Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art. “Moth to Cloth” African silk exhibit will be on view through October 24, 2021, in the Textile Gallery on Level 3 and is included in free general admission. 

“Focused installations allow us to study works from our vast and renowned collection of African art from  a variety of interesting angles,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “We hope “Moth to Cloth” will provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about the cultural significance of  these treasured garments and to make discoveries about silk’s long history in Africa.” 

“I love African textiles, which are woven by hand and utilize a variety of raw materials from the plant  and animal kingdoms,” Dr. Walker said. “The revelation in this exhibition is that silk textiles have been  produced in Africa for centuries, the fibers having been obtained through trade or cultivation or  harvested from cocoons found in the forest, and that their decoration is not only appealing but  meaningful.”  

Man’s prestige wrapper, Ghana, Asante peoples, about 1920–30s, silk, Dallas Museum of Art, African Collection Fund, 2017.20.2

“Moth to Cloth” features six examples of woven silk garments traditionally produced for distinguished wearers or ceremonial events, including kente (handwoven cloth) worn by Asante royals and noble  members of society. Around 1730, the Asante peoples began unraveling imported silk cloths to obtain  the thread for weaving kente. Two kente in the exhibition date to the 1920s and were produced in Bonwire, the center for weaving, near the capital of Ghana. From Nigeria, the exhibition includes  voluminous robes woven with silk threads from cocoons found by hunters in the wild (sanyan).  Distinctive indigo blue or beige robes made by Hausa and Yoruba weavers are traditionally hand embroidered by Nupe specialists living among them. Introduced by Muslims centuries ago, such  prestigious robes are worn by men of any religion or ethnic group.

The exhibition also features a recently acquired, rare example of lamba akotifahana, prestigious shawls with brocaded patterns woven exclusively by women in the Merina Kingdom of Madagascar. Although the Malagasy peoples of the  Merina Kingdom cultivated indigenous silk moths for centuries, lamba akotifahana were woven from Chinese silk moths that were imported and cultivated beginning in the early 19th century. Shawls like  the work in the DMA’s collection were worn by aristocrats and gifted to dignitaries of other nations. 

Short films streaming in the gallery show the life cycle of silkworms and how silk is harvested and woven  into cloth. A new selection of works will be rotated into the gallery at the end of June. A virtual tour of  the exhibition will also be available at virtual.DMA.org in the coming months.  

No Comments Yet.