In Madagascar, hand woven silk and cotton textiles remain potent symbols of authority, wealth, status and identity. Textiles play a prominent role in ceremonies, particularly in rural areas, and serve as a sign of respect for local, ancestral custom. Cloths of this style and complexity are known as "great cloths." They are woven for multiple uses by the family. They may be worn by men for official oratory; worn by the bride or groom of the family for a wedding ceremony; or they may be used as a curtain to shield the coffin of older, more important family members. Cloth is kept and handed down within families. It is considered an ancestral object and worn by elders as a sign of authority.
This particular cloth was made by stitching together two panels, the ends of which were decorated with white, floating weft designs called akotso. In this cloth, the expertise of the weaver is clearly demonstrated the intricate and unique patterns woven into each of the four akotso design areas.
Two-panel textile composed predominantly of black, reddish brown and white striped designs interspersed with narrower stripes of reddish-brown, green, white and black stripes. White cotton weft float designs ornament the two ends of the cloth and demonstrate the expertise of the weaver, as each weft float design area is different one from the next. One design field is composed of checkered and star-like patterns; another has diamond shapes surrounding curvilinear and heart-shaped patterns; a third design area is composed largely of small, tightly packed diamond patterns; a final area includes double triangles and hour-glass patterns. All are framed within narrow rectilinear weft float borders.
Acquired from Jean-Pierre Raboba, Madagascar, 2000
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016 (installed June 30, 2015)
Gifts and Blessings: The Textile Arts of Madagascar Malagasy, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, April 14-September 2, 2002
Fee, Sarah. 2002. "Cloth in Motion: Madagascar's Textiles Through History." Objects as Envoys: Cloth, Imagery, and Diplomacy in Madagascar, edited by Christine Mullen Kreamer and Sarah Fee. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 73, no. 36.
Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 180-181, pl. 88.