KUBA: The most underrated textile in the world

KUBA: The most underrated textile in the world

We are living in the best time to connect artisans to the Global market. – Tina Lobondi

 

It was important for me to take some time to explore the textiles of the country I am from, Congo. One of them significantly stood out every time. The Kuba textile…  You may or not have heard of it but you definitely have seen it a few times in your life on television, store, textiles, frames, and so on….. I recently discovered a brand called Duarra Limited. And immediately fell in love with the work they were doing.

KUBA KINGDOM HISTORY

The Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are located around the Sankuru river in the Kasai region. It’s a tribe made up of 18 sub-groups.

The Kingdom was established in the 17th century by king Shyaam. It had a more developed state institutions than other independent villages and chieftaincy in the region. It also had an unwritten constitution, separation of political powers, a judicial system with courts and juries, a police force and military, taxation and significant public provision.

The base cloth, called “Mbal”, is made from the dried leaves of the raffia palm tree. To produce the cloth, the leaves are first dried and then stripped down to individual fibers before being woven. In the the Kuba culture, men are responsible for the cultivation of the raffia palm and the weaving of the cloth. The women are responsible for transforming the raffia cloth into various forms of textiles.

 

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Photo credits: http://en.lisapoyakama.org/the-kuba-kingdom/

The patterns of the textile communicate essentials informations about the Kuba as individuals and as a society. They are an important marker of social status, lineage and ethnicity. Finally, some textiles are used for funerals and festive events.

The textiles isn’t decorated with human or animal fugures, but with exquisite abstract designs. Although the Kuba people have been producing textiles for four hundred years, their traditional designs are strikingly modern.

Avant-garde European artists like Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Grace Hartzel were greatly inspired by the various abstract pattern of the Kuba textiles.

 

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

The first explorer to discover the existence of the Kuba people was William Sheppard, a black American Presbyterian.

Whenever a king dies, the capital moves to the location of the new king

Several restaurant venues in Salzburg, owned by Austria’s Red Bull founder, display a good selection of Kuba textiles.

 

KUBA FACTS

Wealthy members of society supported Fashion and Arts, which in turn augmented their status and increased their chances of being named to a lofty post. As a result, the efforts of the Kuba artisans became sophisticated and varied.

 

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Picture credit : https://duarra.com

 

The Kuba are also called the Bakuba.

The Kuba kingdom wasn’t affected by the Arabs and European slave trades. It was only destabilised when the Belgians came to Congo at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Kuba society is matriarchal. The eldest woman from the royal family is the true sovereign and she could make the kind stand down.

The Kuba is made up of 18 different tribes but only 4 tribes have gained recognition for their artistic endeavours. The Bushongo, Ngende, Ngongo and Shoowa.

The Kuba’s primary contemporary use of the textile is at funerals of wealthy elders and sometimes weddings.

The Kuba textile was also use as a currency.

 

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Picture credits: http://pandorasantafe.com/kuba-cloth-from-africa/

 

There are four major techniques for producing finished Kuba cloth: embroidery, applique, patchwork and dyeing.

Embroideries, often called “Kuba velours”, have a velvet-like texture while the uncut variety display similar pattern work with a flat appearance.

The applique and patchwork are mirror images of each other. The former required attaching additional pieces of fabric to a base cloth to create a pattern effect. The latter involves cutting away pieces of the base cloth to create a pattern then filling in the gaps by patching the front or back of the base cloth with fabric in the shape of the missing piece.

 

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Picture credit : https://duarra.com

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Ways to refashioning the future of African fashion from an expert.

Ways to refashioning the future of African fashion from an expert.
Leanne is the founder of the platform called Refashionafrica which is dedicated to African Fashion. It serves as a fashionable eye on urban Africa and its various styles.

 

Could you please tell me about your background? 
I have a commercial, marketing and branding background. Prior to founding Refashion Africa I also had my own marketing and sponsorship agency.
Do you really think the African continent is ready for a Vogue Africa? If so why?
I do think it’s time. As I tried to lay out in my article for the “Business of Fashion” website,  we have proven long term economic growth with future prospects, a vibrant fashion eco-system which still has its challenges but I feel must be represented in an authentic way. We have an affluent class and a growing consumer class which will be driving the new modern African narrative. We are more inter-connected than ever before and already have luxury brands present on the continent.
African Vogue could have been the unity element between all the african nations, do you think this may be why, the western media has not given it a chance yet?
I am not sure about that. But what I know is this, this is about us, in Africa. We are a force and the African Renaissance is underway. We must continue to make our own tables and take our place on the global stage.
With South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana leading the fashion industry on the continent, how do you imagine the infrastructure of an African Vogue?
I imagine that the engine driving Vogue Africa will be the best creatives, digital, commercial, communications, publishing, etc… African talent, in other words a collective effort to create a narrative that reflects what is happening inside the continent from major fashion cities to capture the African Zeitgeist and elevate our stories. We need an attitude of openness and willingness from many parties not fingering strong leadership.
You are a very successful writer, what is your opinion about diversity and how social media is helping break barriers globally in the beauty industry? Can the fashion industry follow?
There is continuous pressure for things to change. In the new world diversity is key. The world is in a state of continuous flux and more change is coming. Technological change is a major force shapeshifting the future, and in Africa we have a very high adoption rate for example of mobile technology. Expect new conversations, new ideas, to go beyond what was once thought impossible.
What is the next step for African fashion if this magazine doesn’t not happen in the next 3 years?
African fashion is not dependent on a Vogue Africa happening or not. It will continue from strength to strength, no doubt. We are a force to be reckoned with and Vogue Africa shouldn’t feel like this far fetched idea.

This is why Africans are rejecting the idea of a Vogue Africa!

This is why Africans are rejecting the idea of a Vogue Africa!

The past 2 weeks have seen the trending subject of a “Vogue Africa” to finally come to life. Naomi Campbell has sparked a lot of discussions recently around the subject after her trip to Lagos, Nigeria for Arise Fashion Week.

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But, I have not heard one person of African descent actually thinking this is a good idea. It seems like we are once again trying to get some kind of approval from the western media and really there’s no need anymore. We know that Vogue is not interested in the African continent so why force it?

“There should be a Vogue Africa.” “We just had Vogue Arabia — it is the next progression. It has to be.” “Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform… it shouldn’t be that way.” Naomi Campbell

I am very much confused by her statement about African Fashion and our fabrics|materials not being”out there”! Do we not see the same images online? African fashion, wax, ankara, from America to Europe, African culture is everywhere!

And thanks to Black Panther, Africans are bolder  than ever before.

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An African inspired editorial in Brazil

They are so many publications by Africans, bringing lights on African cultures, arts, personalities, travel such as New African Woman, Zen Magazine, Fashizblack.

Do we really want another western influence on Africa’s mind? Thats the question some asked.

The continent is working hard to push the boundaries in the fashion industry, via its own merits, and create its own vibes and personally. I feel like it will be very difficult to create an infrastructure around an African Vogue, simply because of the various cultures that we have and the complexity of the market as an all.

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African women have always been strong and determined to get things done on their own terms.  Diversity talks are growing through social media and the global press,  this is surely shaking the beauty industry like never before. Things are happening and it should have been Vogue magazine asking Africans their thoughts on this potential venture.

I think many are upset as this feels like we are begging for the chance to prove that Africa can do it too. To make this work, Vogue would need time to study the African market because really there will need to have several versions of the magazine to fit the diversity of our continent.

I do love Naomi, as she is the role model we all look up to. But I feel someone like Iman who invested more into bringing value to women of colour by creating products and engaging with the community, would be a better ambassador for a Vogue Africa.

Naomi’s business sense could definitely lead an edition. I actually thought by coming to Africa, she would have perhaps done an African version of her show The face. This would definitely be a success given the minority of black models still in the global market.

In 2010, Paris based photographer Mario Epanya created series of fictional ” Vogue Africa ” covers, which unfortunately were not enough to convince the mainstream media that Africa was ready to join the elite publication.His work is certainly noticed now as it has been used in every recent articles talking about the Vogue Africa subject.

This trending subject needs to teach us that we need to stop chasing this nonsense approval. Africans can represent their own cultures. What we need is for our governments to invest in the arts and cultures sector. We need to keep standing on our own feet and lead our way.

This is the reason why we launched ESIMBI Magazine, to be able to tell our own stories truthfully. Africa’s time is now but that way needs to be led by our own communities.

If Vogue ever decide to do an African version, we would simply ask that they do their best to represent us as we are and not as they want us to be.

 

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