Cosmic Connections

Wrapper with adinkra patterns, Asante, Ghana, mid-late 19th century (National Museum of African Art collection)

Kanaga mask, Dogon, Mali, mid 20th century (National Museum of African Art collection)


Top, Wrapper with Adinkra patterns, Asante, Ghana, mid-late 19th century

Historically Asante royalty wore adinkra, large wrappers with stamped patterns, only during periods of mourning. In this rare adinkra cloth, clusters of crescent moons and stars join a host of ‘terrestrial’ motifs to communicate strength and resiliency in the face of upheaval.  Asante king Agyeman Prempeh I (ruled circa 1888–1931) wore this cloth in January 1896 to the meeting with British authorities at which he was deposed, arrested, and exiled to Sierra Leone and later to the Seychelles. Eighteen symbols decorate the cloth that Prempeh chose to wear that fateful day, communicating the king’s power as well as his awareness that the British threatened his reign and the kingdom.  The moon and stars reference the reliability of the king (star), which is more constant than the changing phases of the moon.

Bottom, Kanaga Mask, Dogon, Mali, late 20th century

The crossbar superstruction of Dogon kanaga masks may reflect the opposing, yet connected domains of sky and earth. In performance, the dancers reportedly touched the tip of the mask to the earth in the four cardinal directions.  The masks appear at funerals to lead the soul of the deceased to the afterlife.

2 thoughts on “Cosmic Connections

  1. As a fan of textile arts, it was no surprise that I was immediately drawn to the Wrapper with Adinkra patterns. That said, it was the many varied and intricate patterns that really captured my attention and made me want to stare at it for hours!

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