African textiles, garments and accessories have long served as communicative genres and expressions of identity. An extraordinary array of clothing fashioned in cloth, leather, shells, beads, metal, plant fiber and horn transforms the human body into a work of art. Embedded in the various attire are coded messages that communicate ideas of life cycle, age, wealth, marital status, individual character and group identity within the earthly as well as spiritual communities.
Throughout Africa, symbolic notations convey the cultural language of spiritual affiliation, social status and the self. Systems of messaging transmitted through a variety of styles and forms include privileged use of costly materials, garments with hidden protective devices, textile patterns of rank and status, color codes set in glass beads, embroidered diagrammatic symbols, the modern and the fashionable. In these visual statements, identity is arranged in context-dependent attributes, mapped from distinct, often discrete items to complete ensembles.
Identity is continually being fashioned to meet new needs. Today, the materials and images of our techno-cultural age are being absorbed and assimilated more frequently into everyday life. By incorporating contemporary symbols and products, such as cell phones and computers, modern social realities are often reflected. New forms of coded communication and individuality are being shaped by the current digital generation through the vast fabric of data, information and rapid communication systems.
Curator for Education
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