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20th February 2020

Print and Chill: An African textile workshop

Textiles have a major role in African cultures. Megan Oyinka pays homage to her heritage and influences at the Student Union printing workshop.
Print and Chill: An African textile workshop
Art from the Print and Chill Workshop, hosted by ‘Never Taught in School’ Photo: Megan Oyinka

The University of Manchester saw its first African textiles workshop on the 12th of February, hosted by Tanya Mwamuka (behind the blog Never Taught in School) and Loz Textiles. Print and Chill’s aim was to teach the print art found in many African cultures, while offering a safe space for those of African and Caribbean heritage.

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Image: Covering up beacuse it winter. Did you know it snows in Africa? . . In 1984, Band Aid released the Christmas song "Do they Know it's Christmas" in response to the 1983-95 famine in Ethiopia. The song included the lyrics " ..there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas" and though to many the idea of snow in tropical rainforests, Savannah lands and desserts of Africa snow is a very foreign concept But what the singers of Bandaid and I'm sure many of you guys don't know is there is in fact regular snow in some of the 54 countries on the continent. . The kingdom of Lesotho (enclaved by South Africa) is exceptionally mountainous and holds the record of being the coldest country on the continent (lowest point -20 degrees C) snow is often common and draws in ski tourists. The same pattern can be found in South African city of Capetown. Most recently a phenomenon of snow fall in Algeria was witnessed in 2018 in the town of Aïn Séfra, which in other times of the year is one of the hottest places on earth. . Source: tripsavvy – Does it Ever Snow on the African Continent . . #snowfallinafrica #snowinafrica #skiafrica #coldafrica

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Art and being an artist can often feel like a white man’s game, with solidly Eurocentric standards pervading the scene. Yet, as this workshop showed, African culture contributes massively to the world of art and fashion as we know it. As someone of both Ghanaian and English heritage, I was aware of the importance of our textiles before going to the event. Sure, our cloth is used for fashion, but it is truly a work of art in itself.

Kente cloth, for which Ghanaians are most famous, comes from the Ashanti tribe. The colours and patterns are symbolic: in each panel, there is a meaning and message. My favourite is the cloth and symbol titled ‘Wofro dua pa a na yepia wo’: ‘One who climbs a tree worth climbing earns the help of others’. It is a testament to the belief that those who do good should be upheld and praised by the community.

Kente Cloth
Photo: Adam Jones @flicker

That said, the event was no lecture. It didn’t dissect all the ways that traditional textiles have been used, interpreted or developed. It was a space to embrace the brilliance of unwesternised art, to appreciate African beauty and influence. No panel was anywhere near the same—just as each of us came to the event with a different connection to textiles.

For me, it was all the memories of when I had visited Ghana. I had been amazed when I visited cloth shops or received clothes from my family, and was honoured to wear it at family functions. Perhaps my most poignant memory was the time I visited The Artists Alliance Gallery and saw exhibited the rich history and meaning of Kente cloth.

Mwamuka has done an amazing job with this event, creating a space for art to be inclusive, relatable and therapeutic. I hope to have the honour of attending another workshop like this.

The workshop was part of a series of events taking place at the University of Manchester over February through the organisation Never Taught In School, a platform which aims to educate and celebrate the rich culture and history of Africa and the diaspora.

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