Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


This paper examines the significance of factory-printed cloth in Africa and its potential to communicate various messages through its use as clothing. Factory-printed cloth also has unintended communicative value when it is displayed outside Africa in museum contexts. I will introduce the topic with a brief history of research carried out on African factory-printed cloth and its appearance in museum and gallery exhibitions. This has led to contemporary forms of art historical and anthropological research. Some of the latter, including my own, has involved field collecting of commemorative cloths in West Africa. My research resulted in a museum exhibition of factory-printed cloth at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology in 2004. The Textile Museum of Canada also exhibited factory-printed cloth in 2004. Factory-printed cloth made a relatively late appearance in the literature and exhibit history of African cloth. One reason for this could be that the cloth was not considered ‘African’, as its production combines African design with European technology. The introduction of factory-printed cloth to Africa provided a new way in which to communicate messages through cloth, as faces of important people and text could be printed directly onto cloth. This technique has proved useful in commemorating special people or events in Africa. My research reveals how factory-printed cloth can provide insights into a post-colonial country’s political, economic and cultural environments, whether the cloth is worn as clothing in Africa or displayed in museums abroad.