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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Kuba (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Title: Pile cloth (Muata Mukwemi pattern)
Medium: Fibre
Dimensions: 21 x 23 in. (53.3 x 58.4 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of William W. Brill
Object Number: 87.059.020
Label Text: BRIEF DESCRIPTION
Pile cloth is a fine textile produced by Kuba women that is gifted and exchanged under a variety of circumstances.

WHERE WAS IT MADE?
Pile cloth is made in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

HOW WAS IT MADE?
Europeans and Africans alike have long praised the Kuba peoples of Congo for their fine textiles. In fact, the Bushoong subgroup of the Kuba are called the bambal, or “people of the cloth.” Kuba cloth production is highly gendered. Men harvest raffia from palm fronds and weave the raffia into fabric. Although both men and women embellish the cloth with embroidery, appliqué, and patchwork, only women produce the pile cloth.

HOW WAS IT USED?
Kuba cloth was once used as currency and in marital and other contractual agreements. Today different types of Kuba fabrics and skirts serve as memorial gifts in funerals; prescribed numbers of textiles mark the prestige of the deceased.

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
Non-representational geometrical patterns cover Kuba pile cloth. These rhythmic patterns are asymmetrical, yet balanced. The overall design does not consist of a single pattern, repeated endlessly and without variation. On the contrary, subtle changes in pattern result in an improvisatory and playful design.

The finest pile cloths emphasize the contrasting patterns that are possible while using only four tones: cream and three shades of brown. Women produce these colored fibers by soaking raffia in natural dyes before making velvety cut-pile embellishments.

To see other Kuba cloths in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 88.026.049 and 88.026.050 in the keyword search box.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.