Adorning Self and Space: West African Textiles
March 20–September 7, 2015
Gallery 100


The blankets, garments, and cloths highlighted in Adorning Self and Space: West African Textiles demonstrate a captivating array of design and pattern. They were created to comfort and protect, and to proclaim identity, status, and style.

The textiles were gifts to the Museum from the late William (Bill) Siegmann (1943—2011), a noted scholar and curator of African art. Siegmann collected them primarily in West Africa between 1968 and 1984, the formative years of his career, as he began to develop the expertise and connoisseur's eye for which he would become celebrated.

Although created by artists of several cultures from Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, many of the textiles on view share a formal structure of strip-woven cloth that is the basis for myriad design variations. Other cloths in the exhibition merge foreign, industrially produced fabric with inventive techniques for dyeing and decorating that result in kaleidoscopic effects.

As part of his personal collection of African art, the textiles shown in Adorning Self and Space sometimes decorated Siegmann's home in Brooklyn, New York, while also serving as tangible connections to his lived experiences in Africa. Likewise, the cloths were touchstones for the individuals and communities from whom they originate in West Africa, and for whom the textiles served to adorn self and space both for ceremony and the everyday.

Adorning Self and Space: West African Textiles is co-curated by Nichole Bridges, associate curator in charge, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and Zoe Perkins, acting head of conservation and textiles conservator.