tessuti africani Kuba e Shoowa


Kuba cloth comes from the Kuba territory, a vast region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a tribal confederation of a dozen different peoples lives, including the Shoowa, the Bushoong, the Ngongo to name a few.

These african textiles are the result of a time-consuming process. First the fibers of the raffia palm are stripped and kneaded to soften them.Then they are colored using vegetable dyes, generally in shades of ivory, brown, clay red etc. Finally they are woven by hand on a loom, usually by male weavers. At this point, the fabric can be subjected to dyeing again before moving on to the women for finishing and decoration works, with different techniques, ranging from embroidery to painting, to the application of fabric, shells or other materials.

Considered object of great value, Kuba cloth was once used as vestment in the most important ceremonies, as a wedding dowry and also as a real currency universally accepted within the confederation.

Kuba cloth fabrics have a surprisingly modern look. They use improvised systems of signs, lines, colours and weaves, often in the form of complex straight geometric patterns. Their applications recall works by 19th and 20th century masters such as Matisse, Picasso, Klee, Penck and Chellida. This is no coincidence: all these artists were inspired by the design of Kuba!

The appliqué is one of the most widespread techniques among Kuba people. To create an appliqué  the Kuba first draw decorative motifs of a geometric type on a sheet, then cut out these designs and apply them, through stitching, on a fabric of a different colour, which in turn is placed on top of another sheet. The most common fabric applications are dark brown or black on an ecru background, or red or yellow.

What distinguishes the African textiles of the Shoowa people is the renunciation of symmetry. The patterns start at a corner of the fabric and extends to the opposite the extreme, diversifying along the way. Individual forms start to emerge each other and transform so much that, in the end, they have nothing in common, or very little, with what they were at the beginning. Structures that seem simple change, appear three-dimensional in their continuous interweaving and seem to vary ad infinitum in multiple forms to become a magical swirl, leaving viewers literally speechless as soon as you they lay eyes on them.