Friday, November 24, 2006

Bogolan: Shaping Culture Through Cloth

Bogolan: Shaping Culture Through Cloth in Contemporary Mali
by Victoria L. Rovine

In this illustrated book, Victoria Rovine explores the revival of a traditional African textile known variously as bogolanfini, bogolan or mudcloth. Since about 1990, artists of the West African nation of Mali have adapted this cloth, featuring black- or brown-and-white geometric patterns, to create a variety of wares, including intricately detailed paintings, elaborate high-fashion clothing and a wide range of other products aimed at both domestic and foreign consumers. Rovine describes the styles and forms that have developed as the cloth has moved from its rural origins into an urban international marketplace. Initially woven by village women according to local ritual practices, bogolan has become not only a symbol of national and ethnic identity, but also an urban fashion statement and lucrative commodity in the tourist trade and the international art market. In the United States, the textile has become a symbol of pride in the African-American community and a prominent example of the exotic. New artists such as fashion designer Chris Seydou have recreated and redefined bogolan for these expanding audiences. By tracing these transformations, Rovine illustrates the dynamic relationship between the past and the present in contemporary Africa. She also explores how changing incarnations of cultural heritage play an important role in national identity and how, in the United States and Europe, tradition has become a defining feature of an exotic other.

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