Majestic African Textiles traces history through garments

WRITTEN BY GINNY SPELLMAN, STAFF REPORTER

The Indianapolis Museum of Art presents a comprehensive collection of African garments in its Majestic African Textiles exhibition.

This limited-time display includes an assortment of royal garments, ritual wear and intricately decorated items from North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Each garment in the collection  is significant and showcases the beauty and detail of the piece.

Every piece, brightly colored and elaborately patterned, is organized geographically and represents a different African tribe.

Each piece possesses a specific purpose and meaning and creates a visual history of the culture represented.

One distinctive piece is a bride’s headdress for a wealthy African woman in the mid-1900s.

Made of silk, metallic threads and metallic sequins, this red bridal headdress has meticulous patterns over every inch of fabric. The gold, metallic sequins, sewn on the edges of the fabric, lay in a way that frames the brides face in an appealing way. The red and the gold color combination really makes an original wedding accessory. The amount of time and effort put into one headdress can be seen in every stitch.

Some of the most eclectic pieces were outfits used in rituals and ceremonies in the early to mid 1900s.

The costumes are unique and cannot be compared to any modern garments.

While the functionality is confusing at first, the outfits make more sense when the customs are explained.

No matter what culture or type of occasion the outfit was used for, the fabrics and natural fibers played a vital role in African mask traditions.

A masquerade costume, worn for ceremonies and rituals, stands out as the most creative garment in the exhibit.

The costume had a colorful, feather-like top over a brown fabric.

An activity center at the end of the exhibit explains how some of these outfits were made and out of what they were made.

One station demonstrated how to weave the fabrics together to make the cloth.

Another station shows which fibers made which material and the process of making each individual fabric from those fibers.

This activity center really adds to the exhibit by showing how much work is necessary to create a piece of clothing so striking.

The Majestic Africa Textiles will be at the IMA until March 2, 2014. Admission is free.

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