Date: 19th–20th century
Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sankuru River region
Culture: Kuba peoples
Medium: Raffia palm fiber
Dimensions: H. 20 1/4 x W. 45 3/4 in. (51.4 x 116.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of William B. Goldstein M.D., 1999
Accession Number: 1999.522.15
The various stages of textile preparation, production, and adornment engage the collaborative efforts and skills of all members of Kuba society. The cultivation of raffia palm and its subsequent weaving on a vertical heddle loom are the responsibility of men. Individual woven units (mbala) are relatively standardized panels that women embroider with dyed raffia to create a plush pile. These cloths are intended as independent prestige items.
The classic techniques have been applied by female embroiderers over the centuries with considerable innovation and have yielded a dazzling spectrum of formal solutions. Distinctive motifs introduced into the Kuba repertory are assigned names that often acknowledge the ingenuity of individual designers. In the complex composition of this symmetrical double panel, a central interlacing motif appears in the foreground of a dense arrangement of concentric lozenge forms. Through their combined tonal and textural articulation, these patterns project dramatically from the gold field.