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Re-representing authenticity through factory-printed cloths of Africa Willard, Michelle


This paper examines the significance of factory-printed cloth in Africa and its potential to communicate various messages through its use as clothing. Factory-printed cloth also has unintended communicative value when it is displayed outside Africa in museum contexts. Factory-printed cloth made a relatively late appearance in the literature and exhibit history of African cloth. One reason for this is that the cloth was not considered 'African', as its production combines African design with European technology. The introduction of factory-printed cloth to Africa provided a new way in which to communicate messages through cloth, as faces of important people and text could be printed directly onto cloth. This technique has proved useful in commemorating special people or events in Africa. I begin this study by examining issues of authenticity, in relation to African material culture in museum settings and then provide a history of research carried out on African factory-printed cloth and its appearance in museum and gallery exhibitions. This has led to contemporary forms of art historical and anthropological research. Some of the latter, including my own, has involved field collecting of commemorative cloths in West Africa. My research resulted in a museum exhibition of factory-printed cloth at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology in February 2004. The Textile Museum of Canada also exhibited factoryprinted cloth in 2004. A case study of both these exhibits will take place here to illuminate how factory-printed cloth can provide insights into a post-colonial countries' political, social and cultural environments, whether the cloth is worn as clothing in Africa or displayed in museums abroad.

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