From Adinkra to Shweshwe
Everything About African Patterns and Their Modern Usage
From Adinkra to Shweshwe gives you a great insight into the different types of African patterns and how they are being used in a modern way.
First African artifacts were brought to Europe in the 1880s during the colonization period. African furniture, textile, jewelry seemed too unusual for Europeans to be perceived as a piece of art instead of just historical artifacts.
Artists of the 19th century were not openly admitting their fondness for colorful African arts. The first ones who publicly disclosed their affection and helped the African culture to spread were Paul Goguen, Pablo Picasso, and Henry Matisse. Below is the short description of African patterns symbolizing national belonging, and some of them have sacred meanings.
Ndebele is the South African ethnic group where women paint their houses to demonstrate the status of homeowners or to announce their family’s position.
The ancient Nsibidi writing system consists of around 1,000 symbols that were used by Nigerians to communicate. The meaning of some symbols have been uncovered but their combinations are still being used by secret societies and held secret. Victor Ekpuk is a Nigerian-born artist who combined his own graphic and Nsibidi to decorate the vestibule of The Phillips Collection museum in DC state. An observant viewer can discover not only original but also modern Nsibidi-looking objects related to the COVID-pandemic or the BLM movement.
Akwete patterns are invented by the communities in Southern Nigeria. Locals believe that the talent of artisans is given to them by god. Each pattern variation gets its meaning from the creator.
Kente is a traditional textile in East Africa including around 350 ornament types. One of them, Obaakofo Mmu Man, symbolizes democracy and political involvement.
Bamileke is produced by the West Cameroonian community and traditionally colored in an indigo palette that is associated with the sky and a soul’s strength. Cameroonian tribes use such textiles for sacred ceremonies.
Adire has an immense significance for Nigeria. Its compositions can pertain to historical facts, astrology, or even tribal relations. In the 60s Adire was brought to the US and became popular among hippies. Nowadays the pattern is used in the Nigerian fashion mass-market.
Adinkra is the ancient symbolic system of the Asante people in Ghana named after the king of Gyaman. Originally Adinkra was used for sacred ceremonies but nowadays appears on clothing and inventory for special occasions. Ghanian government registered several Adinkra symbols as national heritage, prohibited their usage, and put restrictions on the rest. Adinkra is not to be used on alcoholic drinks but it is still a good tool to glorify the ancient culture.
Mbuti is a tribe living in the tropic forests of Congo. For Mbuti, the forest is a central object of life. It influences their art which always seems abstract and formed from the lines looking like trails and plants.
South African Shweshwe is a well-recognizable indigo-colored pattern with spots forming circles and rounded figures. Traditionally it was used for weddings and then was adopted by casual cloth and graphic designers.
Kuba communities live in Congo and surround themselves with simple geometric patterns. The figures are usually symmetrical but their size smoothly varies from corner to corner. The Kuba people have been using original technologies for hundreds of years.
Bogolanfini ornaments have served as camouflage for the Malian hunters and became a symbol of Malian culture afterward. The paint for applying the original pattern was made of fermented river mud.
Artists who use ethnic patterns to design modern artworks:
Thandiwe Muriu: Kenyan photographer who makes unique compositions with African textile and models.
Karabo Poppy Moletsane: Designer and street artist from the RSA who made projects for Netflix, Nike, Wikipedia, and NBA.
Sandi Mazibuko: Fashion designer from the RSA, uses Ndebele pattern for her collections.
Hassan Hajjaj: Contemporary artist from Morocco.
Laduma Ngxokolo: Fashion designer from the Xhosa community in the RSA.
Emmy Kasbit: Nigerian fashion designer, makes clothes with Akwete patterns.
1. Wikimedia Commons
2. Press BMW
3. Francis Duah
4. Victor Ekpuk FB-Page
7. The Boeings Company’s twitter page
8. Kente Radio / Sadiq Garuba
9. Zingana Hotel
10. Akin Ayofe / Adire Oodua Textile Hub
11. Ghana for 91 Days
12. Vodafone Ghana / Grapheine
14. Wikimedia Commons
15. Sleeping Dog Quilts
16. Shwe Shwe / Fanakalo
17. Contemporary African Art
18. MAAS Museum
19. The Well-Appointed Catwalk
20. House of Farbrosanz
21. Industrie Africa
This essay was written by Diana Tinkerbell.