Mbeengi Artist, Kuba Kingdom
Noblewoman's Ceremonial Overskirt
nineteenth century or earlier
Rafia and embroidery
43 1/2 x 22 inches
Purchase with funds from the Friends of African Art and Joan N. Whitcomb in memory of Taylor Stuckey
On View - Wieland Pavilion, Lower Level, Gallery 102, African Collection
Each block within this cloth contains a different design. In addition, the negative/positive interchange creates a dynamic, improvisatory quality combined with a taste for asymmetry and abrupt pattern-breaks. The extremely fine stitch of the embroidery, its complex patterns, and the irregular feature at one end—like a sketch done in thread—make it a masterpiece of central African textile art. It was made for a woman of royal rank or high social status. Within central Africa, the tradition of embroidered cloth predates the more well-known, early-nineteenth-century tradition of Kuba cut-pile cloth known as Kasai velvet. This textile’s all-embroidered ground and design layout, with a partitioning of the surface into multiple blocks of patterning, link it to the earlier artistic conventions of Kongo textile art, despite its origin in the Kuba region.