About this artwork
According to oral tradition, the 17th-century Kuba king Shyaam introduced plush-textured raffia textiles to his kingdom. Raffia panels have long been considered valuable in Central Africa. Plain panels were used as currency as early as the 16th century. Until the early 20th century, such panels were exchanged in a variety of contexts—for instance, as royal tribute or part of a marriage contract. Today they continue to be collected by families, used in funeral displays, and buried with important adults.
Across the Kuba kingdon in Central Africa, raffia palm fiber has long been used to weave textiles for clothing, display, and exchange. Produced on a single heddle loom, these small elaborate panels were woven with lengths of raffia peeled from the palm frond and then embellished with geometric patterns. Into the early 20th century, such highly valued panels were frequently displayed at court ceremonies and funerals. Often referred to as “prestige panels,” they also functioned as indicator of social status. These panels were also collected by European artists and designers in the early 20th century, with important consequences to the development of European abstraction.
- Currently Off View
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Made 1901–1975
- Raffia, plain weave; embroidered in overcast and stem with running stitches cut to form pile; couching
- 61 × 49.2 cm (24 × 19 3/8 in.)
- Purchased with funds provided by the Textile Society and royalties from Avon Company