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Object Timeline

-0001

1901

  • Work on this object began.

1960

  • Work on this object ended.

2007

  • We acquired this object.

2014

2015

2017

  • You found it!

Kente Prestige Cloth (Ghana), early–mid-20th century

This is a Kente prestige cloth. It is dated early–mid-20th century and we acquired it in 2007. Its medium is cotton, mercerized cotton and its technique is hand-loomed weft-faced plain weave. It is a part of the Textiles department.

The strip-woven cloths of the Asante and Ewe peoples of Western Africa, in present-day Ghana and Togo, are made exclusively by men on portable, drag-weighted looms. The weaving of plain white strips by men for use as currency goes back hundreds of years; most of the textiles produced are plain white or decorated with simple indigo stripes or checks. A small number of highly colored and patterned prestige cloths, however, commonly known as kente cloth, are produced to be worn for important religious and ceremonial events. The cloths are worn toga-style by both men and women.

While the width of the woven strips may vary from 1 to 15 inches, they are most commonly 3½ to 5 inches. The weaver makes a single continuous strip that is then cut into lengths and sewn together selvedge to selvedge to form a wider cloth. Designs are created by incorporating colored threads in the warp to produce vertical stripes, adding colored threads in the weft to make checks, using colored threads of a heavier weight in the weft to create horizontal stripes, or by supplementary weft patterning (brocading). The finished cloths often have a basket-like or checkerboard effect from the alternation of vertically- and horizontally-striped areas, sporadically enhanced with brocaded motifs.

The early 20th-century textile under consideration is most similar to an Ewe type called gbeski susuavor, indicating that “all design and art came into play” because there are no areas of simple warp (vertical) striping. This means that the entire piece is composed of combinations of weft (horizontal) stripes. In lieu of the traditional checkerboard effect there is a constant interplay of horizontal elements across the strips. Warp striping is simpler but also unvarying, because the loom is warped only once. The weft is inserted by hand, so each color choice is at the discretion of the weaver. This piece also has particularly subtle coloration and fine weaving.

This object was purchased from Joss Graham and fund: General Acquisitions Endowment. It is credited Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund.

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Its dimensions are

H x W: 320 × 194.3 cm (10 ft. 6 in. × 6 ft. 4 1/2 in.)

Cite this object as

Kente Prestige Cloth (Ghana), early–mid-20th century; cotton, mercerized cotton; H x W: 320 × 194.3 cm (10 ft. 6 in. × 6 ft. 4 1/2 in.); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2007-8-1

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition David Adjaye Selects: Works from the Permanent Collection.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18705685/ |title=Kente Prestige Cloth (Ghana), early–mid-20th century |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=24 October 2017 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>

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