Inspired by Tribal Designs: Touched by Africa – Echoes in Cloth
Morgen Bardati is one of TAFA’s pioneer members, joining back in our first year, in October of 2010. All along, she has contributed and shared as we have evolved into the exceptional group we are today. Morgen is an example of how the past informs the present, how cultures collide, check each other out and create a new dance, an exchange that has fascinated me now for decades. What does it mean to be “contemporary”, “ethnic”, “tribal” or “relevant” in this age of the internet and shaky borders? Tribal designs have informed the great masters for centuries and today, contemporary artists add to the dialog by creating translations that build bridges between micro-cultures that might have industrial or agricultural roots. Nothing is new under the sun, yet everything is ephemeral, passing, looking back while moving forward…
Enjoy this tribute to a childhood spent in Africa juxtaposed with an adulthood immersed in creative expression. I have been watching Morgen’s work evolve over the past five years and it just keeps getting better and more complex: she dyes, prints, sews and embellishes. The end result is simple and striking, yet born of complex processes that involve knowledge, experimentation, layers of methodology and acute vision. Morgen is also a member of our Artizan Made collective, an off-shoot of TAFA’s marketing program. We love her and hope that you will, too!
When I was a child growing up in South Africa I spent most of my time outdoors, with hands in the dirt, feet in the surf and face in the sun, surrounded by the peoples and cultures who had been shaped by these elements for thousands of years before us. I have always felt the world around me as a tactile experience. I took it all in, as artists do, and over the years the echo of Africa still reverberates in my work. The earthy red of African soil is still the colour I use the most. This is the colour which stirs my soul and keeps my artist palette warm.
I have a few beautiful African beaded treasures which I brought with me when I came to Canada many years ago. Upon reflection I can see that they have helped to inform some of the choices I have made in design and in the materials I use. The Xhosa are the indigenous people of the Eastern Cape region where I grew up. Nelson Mandela was a Xhosa from the Transkei, a region where I spent a lot of time with my family as a child. We would go fishing and camping on the Wild Coast of the Transkei. As far as I can recall the Xhosa beaded necklace shown below came from the people living in the rolling coastal hills of the Transkei. I have treasured it since I was a child. These Southern African people used ostrich shell as beads before the Europeans arrived on the continent. The glass beads came later with the European trade. This necklace is a love “letter” made by a young woman for a young man to convey a message.
I have had this lovely necklace stored way safely for several years. When I started to make necklaces from my own hand dyed and screen printed fabrics this necklace naturally reflected itself in my designs, like an echo from the past.
Mother of pearl buttons are almost the only button I use in my work. They remind me of the sea and the iridescence of the shells I found on the beaches as a child. They have a ‘realness’ about them and it was these little buttons which taught me how to discern genuine from fake when I touched them to my teeth. I use them both decoratively and functionally and prefer loops and buttons as closures in most of my accessories and clothing.
Beaded tassels also show up in my designs:
African designs tend to to be bold with vibrant colour and an emphasis on pattern and rhythm. Strong colour contrasts are present in so much of their work. Africa is visible in the art and crafts of her people – the red dirt and orange sunsets, a singular tree against a stark grassy landscape, contrasting extreme weather patterns and the rhythm of herds of animals against the skyline. The designs of her craftspeople respond with adornments that reflect all of this in simple and striking beading patterns. In the image below are a Zulu necklace and on the top a rare Mpondo women’s beaded head ring that symbolized that she was married. The beadwork on this ring is exquisite with tiny little beads tightly worked over bound fabric tubes. The Mpondo also lived in the Transkei of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. They are Nguni-speaking peoples as are the Xhosa and Zulu.
I think my preference for contrast in colour and bold black screen print designs demonstrates Africa’s role in the shaping of my aesthetics.
I will always be grateful for the chance of my birth on the African continent and for the deep connection to her land and people. No matter how many meaningful connections I have made in beautiful Canada where I live now, it is mother Africa who shaped my bones.
All images on this post link to Morgen’s website.
This is from the exact region where I am from:
This is a fabulous book I have in my library:
Click on any of the images below to visit that item in Morgen’s shop on Etsy:
About Morgen Bardati
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