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Title: Exploring indigenous West African fabric design in the context of contemporary global commercial production
Author: Acquaye, Richard
ISNI:       0000 0004 7960 7349
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2018
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The project seeks to explore and reflect on the potential of the global commercial application of indigenous West African textiles in the middle to high-end interior textiles and surfaces. Theoretically, the ideas of Sarat Maharaj's "Know-how and No-How: stopgap notes on "method" in visual art as knowledge production" (Maharaj, 2009) has been utilised as a method of bringing to light the idiosyncrasies, or veiled aspects of practice in indigenous West African fabric production alongside its diverse and complex cultural connections. The study explores and considers the diverse geographic, economic and ethnographic composition of West Africa, and how these have influenced the various textiles and clothing trajectories of the region. The research addresses contemporary commercial applications of indigenous West African textiles and further interrogates issues of appropriation, cultural and indigenous ownership and their implications for creativity, mechanisation and the commercialisation of indigenous fabrics. The subtle balance and interplay between assimilation, translation and the role of the African diaspora particularly, and how they imbricate to shape modern-day textile fabrics in West Africa is discussed. It also considers the impact processes of appropriation have, and continue to have, on textile creativity and development, because African textiles have played a key role in constructing social identities and creating an innate bond between the 'owner' and fabric. The research also provides a brief contextual discussion on the evolution of textile production in various West African countries and the role colonialism has played in influencing textile discourse, and further discusses how textile fabrics have evolved through a complex mix of cultural assimilation, translation, transformation and migration; and simultaneously how the various African diasporas have created a dialogue that has shaped subsequent textile developments utilising a delicate balance of cultural and textile discourses. The work of Yinka Shonibare, Trine Lindegaard, Philippe Bestenhieder, Junya Watanabe, El Anatsui, Grace Ndiritu and other artists and fashion designers who have drawn inspirations from West African textile themes has been used as a means of discussing broader philosophical questions, as well as providing inspiration for the practical element of the thesis. A visual analysis is conducted on Adire, Adinkra, Bogolanfini, Fon applique, Korhogo and Wax print fabrics to de-construct the hidden meanings of these fabrics and increase an understanding of such complex textile traditions. Visual meaning has also been sought through a social semiotic approach to the visual analysis. Social semiotics assumes that representation and communication always draw on a multiplicity of modes, all of which contribute to meaning. The visual analytic process reveals and crystallises the intrinsic characteristics of the fabrics that in turn feed into the project's practical exploration. The practical component of the study proposes and utilises a series of 'collaborations' with technology, new material, colour resources and global trends to generate forms/motifs/visual language that are then translated into commercial designs based on indigenous West African fabric themes. The experimentation has adapted traditional artistic and graphic aesthetics (symbols, design motifs, totems and insignia), creatively manipulating them via digital technology and using a mechanised printing process for completion. The practical component of the study has explored these cultural affiliations further by adopting new materials and processes. It is hoped that the new designs would continue to help re-define indigenous West African textile expressions and their applications globally. Operating on the premise that, when rules, restrictions and issues of copyright and appropriation are attached to cultural production, innovation in such areas ceases, the study argues that there should be an avenue that would allow the utilisation of cultural designs and elements in collaboration with their owners and to use them in the appropriate context. The study, in addition, places indigenous West African textile fabrics within a contemporary context through the examination of their uses and interpretation. It examines how the fabrics are utilised outside of their primary market of domestic West African consumption and place them on a more global frontier. It establishes the complexities of commodifying culture and discusses how the notions of authenticity, interpretation and integrity could be explored to benefit the larger society. The study concludes with a consideration of how indigenous West African textile designs could be redefined to resonate with current design trends and by extension testimonial of design history for future generation.
Supervisor: Faiers, Jonathan Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available