Interiors and Exteriors
Art and Design
Objects and Antiquities

Friday, August 10


Vincent Dion made this fantastic two piece summer suit in the Uniform Factory at the AGO.  The fabric, purchased from Affordable Textiles, is an inexpensive copy of Dutch wax resist, a fabric with a pan continental and tangled history:

In the mid 1800s the Dutch were trading gold and spices in Java (Indonesia) and along the West African coast.  The Van Vlissinger family began producing traditional Javanese fabric to sell back to the locals.  This venture proved unsuccessful, however, the fabric was popular in Africa and was further disseminated as Africans were recruited to fight with the Dutch in Java and the textile became a form of printed currency.  By 1900 this European knock off of a Javenese tradition became the height of fashion in areas of Africa.  Today, Vlisco still produces wax cotton textiles, developing new designs to suit different African counties.  Although an estimated 95% of these fabrics are cheap knock-offs like the pictured Chinese-made screenprint, West African women continue to choose the real Dutch wax because of the quality of cotton, design and colour fastness of the dyes.

The British/Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare uses Dutch wax printed cotton to explore issues of colonialism, race and class in his work.  Recreating scenes from European paintings using figures dressed in these fabrics, Shonibare explores the complicated interrelationships between Europe and Africa.

But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think.  They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture — it’s an artificial construct.

That China is now copying  the Dutch copy of the original Javanese style lends further complication to what at first glance is an icon of West African culture.

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