Woman's Ceremonial Skirt (Democratic Republic of the Congo), early 20th century
Medium: raffia Technique: hand-loomed plain weave, embroidered in buttonhole, stem and cut pile stitches with withdrawn-thread work. Museum purchase through gift of Dr. and Mrs. Lewis Balamuth, Mr. and Mrs. DeWitt Clinton Cohen, Gertrude Crownfeld, Valerie Dreyfus, Norvin Hewitt Green, Rodman A. Heeren, Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, Florence N. Levy, Mrs. Paul C. Pennoyer, Mrs. Bernard Reis, Mrs. William Jay Schieffelin, and Mr. and Mrs. Stephens B. Stanton. 1990-133-3
What is this?
A woman's ceremonial skirt with a center panel of dark purplish-brown, with a design of interconnected diamonds with striped and dotted fillings created by buttonhole embroidery and withdrawn element work. A wide border on three sides has dark brown raffia cut-pile embroidery with interlacing patterns. Also on three sides, a heavy wrapped cord attached with a buttonhole variation in orange raffia, creating a form of ruffled edging.
Why is this in our collection?
The visual arts of the Kuba Kingdom have long been admired for their vitality and complexity, especially in the handling of abstract geometric surface design. Perhaps the most dynamic examples are raffia skirts worn for ceremonial occasions. Both men and women use a broad repertoire of decorative techniques, including tie-dye, appliqué, patchwork and embroidery, but only women use cut-work and cut-pile embroidery, the two dominant techniques in this skirt. Each tuft of pile is a short length of raffia inserted with a needle under the warps of the foundation, and the two ends cut short. Brushing the exposed ends with the edge of a knife further splits the raffia ends and gives a rich, velvety texture. The undulating coil edging of this piece is created by wrapping and binding a thick rope of raffia to the edge of the skirt with buttonhole stitches; the tension introduced causes it to flip back and forth like an unruly cable.
This object has been included in the following exhibitions: