Tuesday, May 25, 2010

African Portrait Cloth

Kanga, (East Africa), or pagne, (West and Central Africa) are the roughly 5 ft. long, rectangular, printed textiles used for everything from wrapping one’s head to carrying a baby. The pictorial fabric, which also traditionally include text, are often printed to commemorate a specific event--funeral, political campaign, visit by a world leader—in which case one or multiple portraits are incorporated into the design.

Long Live the President! Portrait Cloths from Africa, at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, has over 100 examples on display to August 29, 2010. To learn more about these cloths that are such an important part of African textile culture, visit Adire African Textiles online. There, you can view much of the collection from which many of the exhibit's pieces are on loan. Find additional information about kanga here, here, and here.

"AmitiĆ© Franco Gabonaise," “Franco-Gabonese friendship,” is printed beneath portraits of President Georges Pompidou and President Omar Bongo on the occasion of Pompidou’s visit to Gabon in February 1971.

Ahmadou Ahidjo, President of Cameroun, 1960-1982.
Two cloths: top, circa 1963, bottom, circa 1970.

Abdoul Diouf , President of Senegal, 1981-2000.
Cloth is from the election year, 1983.

Albert-Bernard Omar Bongo, President of Gabon for 42 years,
1967-2009, when he died in office. Cloth dates from 1971.

Funerary cloth for Marien N'gouabi, President of
Congo (Brazzaville) from 1969 to 1977.

Francois Tombalbaye, President of Chad
from 1960 to 1975. Cloth is circa 1970.

Leopold Sedar Senghor, President of Senegal, 1960-80.
Cloth marked his 90th birthday in 1996.

Mobutu Sese Seko, President of Zaire, 1965-97.
Cloth is circa 1992.

25th anniversary of the death of Thomas Moulero, 1888-1975,
first priest of Dahomey (Benin), 2000.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa, in 2001.

Michael Jackson, Tanzania, 2009.

Pope John Paul II's visit to Benin in 1993

Masai women wearing Barack Obama kanga, 2009.

Kanga for Bush's visit to Tanzania in 2008. (via D.C. Diary)

Photos from Tropenmuseum and Adire African Textiles.


  1. Wow, these are incredible. Thank you for sharing. These really put memorabilia tee shirts to shame.

  2. These are amazing. Who makes them? Are they made all over? How are they printed?


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