Uruba @ Museum of Ethnology

The Uruba exhibition features traditional fabrics and clothing, was brought together by the Ahmadu Bello University of Zaria in Nigeria with the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture in Lagos and was previously on display at the Commenwealth Institute in London.

Exhibition Uruba, Article by Saskia de Bodt  @ NRC Handelsblad, Rotterdam Library, Museum for Ethnlogy, 29 Januari 1985


Exotic textile

Entering the narrow entrance to the exhibition space in the Rotterdam Municipal Library, the visitor gets the feeling of having landed in an African village from one moment to the next. Tall palisades painted in bright patterns tower vertically and diagonally, hung with the most intriguing textiles, while primitive cages made of chicken wire casually display spinning stones, spinning wheels, flakes of raw cotton and all kinds of weaving equipment.

In the background, the monotonous rattling of a primitive loom accompanied by cries and chants, moving up and down at lightning speed, sounds constantly from a television set. In short, the exhibition of West African weaving set up here by the Museum of Land and Ethnology Rotterdam does not consist of patches neatly pinned to the wall accompanied by weaving diagrams and gives anything but a static historical classification by period, people or decorative motif.

With a romantic image in mind, the designers Frans Vogelaar (Amsterdam) and Frank Vrede from Rotterdam have opted for an overwhelming confrontation between the spectator, lugging library books or not, and these mythical exotic textiles. At this exhibition, weaving seems an art that has hardly anything to do with craftsmanship but everything to do with personal expression, good taste and ecstasy. In particular, the characteristic large square men’s robes the agbadas, arranged spaciously and high in the sky, come across majestically and will inspire many a déssin designer.

What is not immediately noticeable is that the robes are composed of narrow strips of fabric, never wider than 20 centimetres, As the Nigerian in the video produces at breakneck speed. These agbadas, which are predominantly beautiful and subdued in colour and bear monumental, geometric embroidery in the middle front, are primarily occasional costumes. They are extremely precious and reserved for high-ranking people in West African society. They come with a round and brightly coloured hat and simple wide-leg trousers, which in practice are barely visible under the long agbada.

Women’s clothing is much simpler, consisting mainly of several straight pieces of cloth draped around the body. A large bridal costume at the exhibition shows how fancy the results can be. In West Africa, the coarse cotton and silk fabrics, which are often very clever in technical terms, are mainly woven by men while women carry out the preliminary operations such as dehulling the cotton, spinning; later, they may also get involved in selling the fabrics. Apart from traditional woven fabrics, printed cottons are also very fashionable these days. Ironically, these popular ‘African’ fabrics with their ‘African’ motifs are made in the Netherlands, specifically at the Vlisco in Helmond, which employs 20 designers especially for this purpose.
However, no one has to pull the hair out of their head for having laboriously dragged suitcase full of cottons from Africa, because normally the market is closed and Vlisco works strictly for Africa. It is only on rare occasions that the factory occasionally has a sales stand at the exhibition only on Saturdays. Yet Vlisco forms an essential the exhibition because their fabrics define the Nigerian fashion and street scene as much as traditional fabrics do.

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