Kuba (Shoowa) Cloth
Kuba cloth production—by the Kuba peoples of the central region of the Democratic Republic of Congo—is one of the richest African textile traditions. Owing to a period of several centuries of remarkable economic prosperity and cultural growth, the Kuba were capable of supporting a diversified artistic sub-culture. This abundant artistic season allowed for development of an amazingly labor-intensive process of producing elegant, distinctive textiles which feature bold, contrasting geometric patterns and unique pile texturing. It is largely due to the repeated production and use of a "sophisticated vocabulary of elaborate decorative patterns that are also found in their architecture, carved objects, and female body scarification" (Svenson), that the Kuba has maintained its important cultural identifications.

The Kuba cloth production process is divided into several gender and age-based segments. The men generally weave the basic units of cloth. Kuba women then join the segments and embellish them through traditional techniques of embroidery, patchwork, and appliqué. The cloth has been used historically for burial cloths, both ritual costuming and everyday clothing, as well as to symbolize relative power and wealth within the Kuba society. Western Decorative Arts feature many Kuba-like patterns in contemporary upholstery fabrics and wall coverings. (JH)

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