About this artwork
Individually worked panels were sewn together to create this expansive skirt embellished with a kinetic array of patterns. The central floating motifs add lightness, especially when contrasted with the black-and-white checkerboard edge. Kuba men are responsible for preparing and weaving raffia, while Kuba women cut the appliqúe shapes freehand to decorate the cloth. To make a skirt of this size, several women from the same extended family would construct different sections.
The abstract forms may represent stylized humans, animals, plants, and objects. Constituting a kind of encrypted script, the repeating motifs—including circles, lozenges, and L-shapes—function as building blocks for the entire design. The comma-like shape that appears across parts of the skirt is called ishina’mbua, which translates as "dog’s tail"—a symbolic reference to the animal’s keen sense of smell and vision as well as the spiritual qualities that the Kuba associate with the animal.
At the turn of the previous century, when this skirt was made, European visitors to the Kuba kingdom recorded their admiration for the richly patterned raffia textiles that were worn and displayed at public festivals and funerals.
Currently Off View
- Ceremonial Skirt
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Made 1875–1900
- Raffia, plain weaves; pieced; appliqúed with plain weaves in pearl stitches; embroidered in pearl stitches; edged with bands of cotton, warp-stripe warp-float faced twill weave; cotton, plain weave; pieced and hemmed in slip and pearl stitches; and cotton, warp-float faced alternating float weave; joined with raffia in pearl and twisted insertion stitches
- 77.1 × 475.4 cm (30 3/8 × 187 1/8 in.)
- Edward E. Ayer Endowment, a memorial to Charles L. Hutchinson by his great friend and admirer; Samuel P. Avery and Maurice D. Galleher endowments