The larger markets in West Africa offer everything from foodstuffs to scrap metal to used clothing—and they also boast hundreds and hundreds of stalls filled with printed cloth. With some vendors selling just a few cloths and others featuring enormous stacks of six- and twelve-yard panels, these markets offer something for everyone. Ubiquitous throughout urban and rural Africa as garments and head wraps, African-print cloths are also popping up on fashion show runways and in retail fashion catalogs in the United States and Europe.
African market vendors may carry cloths made in Holland, Ghana and other West African nations, as well as China, assuring a wide choice of prices and styles that will cater to their diverse customer base. The vibrant visual imagery on the textiles is equally varied, from everyday items like car keys, neckties, clothespins, electric fans, and cell phones, to chiefly swords and royal regalia, to the likenesses of world leaders and sports celebrities (Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Muhammad Ali, to name just a few!). As such, these double-sided, factory-produced cloths communicate messages about individual and community values, reveal perspectives on taste and fashion, and offer telling insights into the global economy.
This exhibition is curated by Betsy D. Quick, Director of Education and Curatorial Affairs, Fowler Museum at UCLA, with Suzanne Gott, Art History and Visual Culture, Department of Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan.