Kuba cloth originated in the 17th century in the Kuba kingdom of central Africa, in modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). It is now well known that the patterns in Kuba cloth inspired early 20th century artists such as Matisse’s ‘Cut Outs’ and Gustav Klimt’s ‘Golden Period’. Kuba cloth making is a time-intensive process involving multiple people. Traditionally men are responsible for raffia palm cultivation and the weaving of the raffia cloth while women are responsible for transforming raffia cloth into various forms of textiles, including ceremonial skirts, ‘velvet’ tribute cloths, headdresses and basketry.
Each piece is crafted by hand and takes around ten days to complete. The tapestry begins with a raw raffia base onto which the coloured raffia is painstakingly added using a technique known as "cut pile" in which the ends of the raffia embroidery threads are cut very short & close to the surface to produce a soft texture similar to velvet. To do this, the raffia fibres need to be tripped and kneaded for an initial softening. The strands are then colored using vegetable dyes. Next, the flat weave textile is produced on an inclined heddle loom, usually by male weavers. At this point, another round of dyeing or kneading may take place, before handing the piece off for the final "finishing" work typically carried out by Kuba women.
For this collaboration we looked at writing systems and how they are manipulated across time and place. Each tapestry draws on the Mandombé Script, a script proposed in 1978 in Mbanza-Ngungu in the DR Congo by Wabeladio Payi, who said it was revealed to him in a dream by Simon Kimbangu, the prophet of the Kimbanguist Church. Mandombé is based on the sacred shapes - a square S or 5 shape. It is the only writing system in the world whose visual template is a brick wall. We then played with the orientation and layout of the script to create new shapes that resemble a blend of written scripts from all over the world.
Each piece is entirely crafted by hand by 2-3 different artisans at Kilubukila atelier. a design and craft workshop based in Kinshasa, D.R.C, that values Congolese heritage and cultures to create design objects and thus access international markets. KIilubukila works with with 25 artisans (including 22 female artisans) who have been trained for product quality control and consistency. Most women work from home and meet once or twice a week to collect / drop off at the atelier. KIilubakila is in the process of
creating a workshop, gallery and office to gather about 70 people under the same compound to foster an even stronger sense of community between artisans, while providing flexibility for them to work at home if they’d like.