Man's Prestige Cloth

Date: 1930–50

Geography: Ghana

Culture: Ewe peoples

Medium: Cotton and silk

Dimensions: H. 73 x W. 120 in. (185.4 x 304.8 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Woven

Credit Line: Purchase, Mariana and Ray Herrmann Gift, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.555


With its radiant colors and dynamic composition, this kente cloth belongs to one of West Africa's major traditions of visual expression. In the Ewe and Akan communities of southwestern Ghana and western Togo, such costly prestige cloths are worn at festivals, religious celebrations, and important events in an individual's life. The cloth is draped majestically around the body with one loose end brought up and over the left shoulder.
To create kente cloth, the long, narrow woven fabric is cut at fixed intervals to produce twenty-four strips that are sewn together selvage to selvage. In this example, created by an Ewe master-weaver, the strips are a uniform width and the transition between the warp-and weft-face blocks is even and regular. The lively array of highly imaginative motifs—animals (fish, elephants), inanimate objects (stool, camera), and anthropomorphic elements (interlocking hands)—refer to historical events or proverbs, imbuing the textile with another level of significance. Although the overall impression is of dynamic random patterning, the number of alternating blocks per strip and their sequencing, overall length, and color balance adhere to specific mathematical and design parameters. This especially complex creation is impressive for its countless delicate details and diverse compositional elements.