When I landed in Ghana in August last year, I knew that my first Arts Council of African Studies Association (ACASA) triennial symposium would be an inspiring experience, and I was not disappointed. To make it particularly special, this was ACASA’s first symposium on the African continent in its 50-year history, and the event coincided with celebrations of 60 years of Independence in Ghana, the first African country to become a nation state in 1957.
The Centre for African Studies at the University of Ghana in Accra, the country’s capital, was the perfect venue for celebrating the arts of the African continent. With refurbishment of the National Museum of Ghana in progress, it was timely that the conference schedule included a Museums Day. Participants considered the complex relationships between African and non-African museums, and the shape of the museum in Africa in the future. I presented my current research into the African barkcloth collections at National Museums Scotland, and joined a specialist panel on the art of attire in Africa.
I was not going to let the chance to add to the collections go by whilst I was in Ghana. An area of contemporary textile collecting from Africa I am developing is printed cloths commissioned to commemorate special events.
One of the sights that really strikes you in many African countries is the widespread use of mass produced brightly coloured printed cloths: worn as wrappers, used as baby carriers, to transport provisions and always visible in some use or another. It is a practical, low cost and available example of creativity, social comment and a highly visible expression of material culture worn every day, and to celebrate special occasions. Ghana’s 60-year anniversary was surely a good excuse for a special cloth!
On visits to the markets of Accra and Kumasi, I bought four cloths with different anniversary designs – they’re colourful new additions to our growing collections of textiles documenting African social and political history.
You can find out more about portrait cloths from Malawi and our African commemorative textiles project with Edinburgh Art College at the National Museums Scotland website. You can explore more African commemorative cloths on our Pinterest board.