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We are just beginning to develop this project which is based on our shared interest in textiles and heritage issues. 

A collaboration with Dr Aba Eyifa Dzidzienyo

 

There has been a textiles turn in recent years, with increasing attention given to craftivism and activist textiles. This is particularly the case in Europe and the Americas, however much less is known about activist African embroidery. 

 

Our project brings together our interests in textiles with a view to exploring the different types of African or Ghanaian textiles in museum storage outside of Ghana.  

In the last twenty years there has been a noticeable growth in textile practices and needlework projects.  

 

1. We have been looking at African textiles in museum collections.  

 

2. We are also interested in the use of textiles by African artists. 

 

3 We are also interested in the provenance of textiles. What Ghanaian textiles are in UK collections and how were they acquired? 

 

Are there contemporary African sewing groups or textile artists that are using fabric art for activism, memorialisation or societal change? 

 

What African artists are working with textiles? Are any of these Ghanaian? 

Our collaboration so far

We started our project exploring the displays in local museums such as the Cambridge Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. 

We looked at the Asante gold in MAA  

and reflected on the acknowledgement of some of the items that have been looted.  

There are some textiles in the MAA that appear to be looted. But not all are looted, and I think there is rich and vibrant research to be done on the contributions from Cambridge Anthropologists.  

Not all Ashanti items were looted 

We are interested in a royal robe, made from strip woven fabric in yellow, red, blue and black that was donated in 1934. It is comprised of checks and stripes and is embroidered with Kente design.

 

The museum says that it has letters in the collection from Gow to Clarke discussing Asante items (a stool, a chair and the robe). These were given to his maternal grandparents by the Rev. Tregaskis, general superintendent of the Wesleyan missions in West Africa. Tregaskis is noted as the tutor of "Prince John Ossoo Ansah, maternal uncle of King Cofee (or Kofi) of Ashanti", who had been "driven out of Cape Coast Castle where he was living by Fantees who were afraid of an Ashanti invasion. Both Prince Ossoo Ansah and Tregaskis had stayed with Gow's mother's parents in 1874, with Tregaskis giving them these gift in return for their hospitality. 

 

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On the 19th January 2024 Aba and I visited the Pitt River Museum.  

 

The textiles repository was in the process of being moved to a new storage facility beside the museum and so we were not able to access textiles that were not on display.   

 

In the morning we met with Lennon Mhishi, who explained some of the work being done by the Pitt Rivers museum to engage the public with the collections. Mhishi is working with art students from Central St Martins in London, who create artworks in response to objects from the Africa collection.  We spoke about the looted items and he explained that with the items, knowledge systems were lost, since knowledge was often passed on in ceremonies that used the object.  

 

 

In the afternoon we looked at a box of Asanti gold weights (Number 1949.7.3-). The provenance records for these items state that they were collected by Major C.H.W. Donovan (a founding member of the Army Service Corps) during the Ashanti war of 1896. (Photo of book).  

 

Online records from give further information “Captain R. R. Donovan brought us carvings from King Prempeh’s palace, collected by Major C. H. W. Donovan during the Ashanti War of 1896, and other Ashanti material.”  

 

16. Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the year ending 31 July 1949.

 

I was impressed by the amount of work that has been done by the museum to make these reports available digitally, which means they can be researched from the African continent.   

 

We also met a curator in the public engagement who brought out a box of African textiles that is in the object handling collection. These textiles would be taken to schools and used with school groups in the museum.   

 

Back in Cambridge, Aba gave a talk on restitution in Murray Edwards College.  

 

In terms of textiles existing provenance research says that they tend to have come in three ways, missionary, looting, and anthropological.  

 

I have become interested in those textiles that were donated by academics.  

 

The second strand of our project is to reflect on contemporary African textile art. With that in mind, Aba and I visited the Tate Turbine hall where we enjoyed  El Anatsui  BEHIND THE RED MOON 

 

Which is actually made from bottle tops that were sourced in Nigeria.  

 

It is a monumental textile sculptural installation that reflects on colonial trade routes, the history of transatlantic commerce and the trade in enslaved people. 

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