Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints

Batik is a Javanese word that refers to a traditional technique of wax-resist dyeing, in which a pattern is made on both sides of cotton fabric with warm liquid wax applied by a tjanting, a small brass cup with a spout. After the wax cools and solidifies, the cloth is dyed with a primary color and the wax is then removed, revealing the pattern where the wax had once been.

J.B.T. Prévinaire, a Dutch cotton printing mill owner, was instrumental in developing a machine that could print imitation batiks industrially. In 1854, he unveiled “La Javanaise,” a converted French printing machine that could print an imitation of the Javanese batik using resin instead of wax.

Despite the technological advance, “La Javanaise” produced imperfections in the print that did not appeal to the Javanese buying public, so the European printers found themselves looking for new markets around the world. After many years of transcontinental exploratory travels and investigations, they identified Africa as the new potential market for their wax prints.

The success of the wax prints on the African scene is driven by many factors, such as the culture, taste, and desires of the African consumers. Clothing in Africa serves an important means of communication, sending secret messages and retelling local proverbs. Clothing also depicts a person’s social status and position, political convictions, ambition, marital status, ethnicity, age, sex, and group affiliations. The names and stories associated with the fabrics differ from country to country and region to region. One fabric may have different names in different countries, depending on the symbolism that the consumer can read in the fabric.

The history of the African wax print is a history paved along colonial trade routes and globalization in the post-colonial era. Though not originally African, these textiles have become ingrained in African culture and society, and loved and identified as their own.

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Availability

Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints is touring July 2016 through June 2021. The dates below reflect five-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • July 5–August 16, 2016 Sioux City Public Museum
    Sioux City, IA
    booked
  • September 1–October 5, 2016 Griot Museum of Black History
    St. Louis, MO
    booked
  • October 21–November 30, 2016 Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery, University of Nebraska
    Lincoln, NE
    booked
  • December 15, 2016–January 19, 2017
    available
  • February 1–March 10, 2017 Kean University
    Union, NJ
    booked
  • March 25–April 30, 2017 Appleton Museum of Art
    Ocala, FL
    booked
  • May 15–August 16, 2017 Houston Public Library
    Houston, TX
    booked
  • September 1–October 5, 2017
    available
  • October 21–November 30, 2017
    available
  • December 15, 2017–January 19, 2018
    available
  • February 2–March 10, 2018
    available
  • March 25–April 30, 2018
    available
  • May 15–June 20, 2018
    available
  • July 5–August 16, 2018
    available
  • September 1–December 15, 208 Ruth Funk Center of Textile Arts
    Melbourne, FL
    booked
  • February 3–March 10, 2019
    available
  • March 25–April 30, 2019
    available
  • May 15–June 20, 2019
    available
  • July 5–August 16, 2019
    available
  • September 1–October 5, 2019
    available
  • October 21–November 30, 2019
    available
  • December 15, 2019–January 19, 2020
    available
  • February 3–March 10, 2020
    available
  • March 25–April 30, 2020
    available
  • May 15–June 20, 2020
    available
  • July 5–August 16, 2020
    available
  • September 1–October 5, 2020
    available
  • October 21–November 30, 2020
    available
  • December 15, 2020–January 19, 2021
    available
  • February 3–March 10, 2021
    available
  • March 25–April 30, 2021
    available
  • May 15–June 20, 2021
    available

Exhibition Details

Approximately sixty wax prints and three dresses

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Gifty Benson

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $2,450

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $1,225 for dates before July 1, 2017; $1,715 for dates after July 1, 2017

  • Duration

    5 weeks

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    250

  • Square Feet

    50

  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    3 crates/850 pounds

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.

Educational Resources

Exhibition Background

Glossary

Glossary

Download this glossary here.

ABC—In 1816, a small workshop in England known as A. Brunnschweiler & Co. started printing designs inspired by batik on cotton: the wax prints. This company eventually became ABC. Today, the design studio for African wax print fabric is located in Manchester, England, and the rest of the company is located in Ghana, Africa.

wax print—This is a type of fabric that is an industrialized version of a hand-drawn, hand blocked, and hand-dyed batik. The African wax commercial printing process developed in the Netherlands and England in the 19th century.

batik—A methodology of wax resistance using dye and cloth or any fiber materials, in which melted wax is painted onto a fabric surface (typically cotton). Once cooled, the fabric is dyed. Wax can be removed and reapplied, and the fabric can be dyed again to achieve different colors and elaborate patterns.

brand logo—Authentic African wax prints are branded on the selvedge of the fabric with a logo of the company who produced them, to verify that they are not counterfeit. The brand logo is an important part of the design of the clothing made from wax print fabric—the selvedge edge with the brand is not cut off, it is placed prominently in the garment so the wearer can show it off.

commemorative wax print—A popular design for an African wax print is a commemorative print or anniversary print incorporating a president, tribal chief, or other dignitary, and commissioned to celebrate special events.

Damask-Bazin—A type of cotton, woven fabric used for printing fine materials. Damask is characterized by its tight weave and lustrous quality.

fancy print—This is a fabric design that is printed only on one side of the fabric and mimics the traditional wax print patterns (wax prints are printed typically on both sides). A fancy print is also known as imiwax.

folk tale—A traditional story or legend from a culture or a common people that informs oral traditions or beliefs.

indigo—A natural dye extracted from the indigo plant that was historically used in India, making its way to Greek and Romans cultures and eventually Asia. Indigo is typically the first dye bath used in the creation of an African wax print cloth.

Java—The fourth-largest island of Indonesia. The art of batik was developed in Java to the highest standard. Indonesian batik textiles influenced the development of African wax prints.

Java print—This is a product line from Vlisco that interprets traditional Indonesian batiks by imitating process and designs. They are printed on one side of the fabric.

marinière—A loose, hip-length blouse with a low neck, hip flounce, and wide sleeves worn in many countries in Africa.

motif—A decorative design or pattern.

ndoket—A long loose-fitting over-garment “top” worn with the pagne in many countries in Africa.

pagne—This is the name for an African garment made from a two-yard piece of fabric that is simply tied around the waist as a “wrapper.” The pagne covers the legs from hip to ankle and is typically worn with a blouse or a t-shirt.

pattern—A repeated design or motif.

proverb—A short saying that states a truth or communicates a piece of advice.

resin—This sticky substance is used to create the dye resist on fabric in the African wax print commercial printing process. Resin replaces the wax traditionally used in the batik process.

selvedge—The manufactured or finished edge of a woven, manufactured fabric.

Super Wax—This is a luxury product line of the Vlisco company and uses very fine quality cotton, three-color designs, and a unique crackling effect characteristic of batik techniques. This fabric is always branded with the Vlisco logo and the words SUPER-WAX, and is printed on both sides.

taille basse—a tight-fitting, bodice-style blouse with a low neck, hip flounce, and wide sleeves that is often tailor-made from African wax print cloth and worn in several African countries.

tjanting—this is the name of the tool used in the batik process wherein melted wax is placed in the bowl of the tool. The wax drips through the end spout, much like a pen. The artist can paint the hot wax onto fabric to create areas in which the batik dye will resist.

tjap—a copper block stamp for hand-stamping fabric for wax print.

trademark—a symbol or word or group of words that is legally registered and represents a product or a company.

Vlisco—This company, founded by Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen in 1846 in Helmond, the Netherlands, has become a significant broker of African wax prints in Africa and around the world. Today, Vlisco’s factories are located in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and their fabric design center remains in the Netherlands.

wax print—This is a type of fabric that is an industrialized version of a hand-drawn, hand-blocked, and hand-dyed batik. The African wax commercial printing process developed in the Netherlands and England in the 19th century. The fabric design is printed on both sides and typically uses several colors.

Bibliography

Exhibition Reference Materials

Download this bibliography here.

Materials accompanying the exhibition are marked with an asterisk (*).

Books for Adults

Ankersmit, Willem. “The Waxprint: Its Origin and Its Introduction on the Gold Coast.”
(master’s thesis, University of Leiden, 2010)

Arts, Jos. Vlisco. Zwolle: W Books, 2012.

Carpenter, Catherine. African Textile Patterns. London: A & C Black, 2013.

Clarke, Duncan. Art of African Textiles. San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1997.

Dan van Dartel. Collectors Collected: Exploring Dutch Colonial Culture Through the Study of Batik. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2007.

*Elliot, Inger McCabe. Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1984.

Friedland, Shirley and Leslie Pina. African Prints. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1998.

Gillow, John. African Textiles: Color and Creativity Across a Continent. New York:
Thames & Hudson, 2016.

*Hemmings, Jessica. Cultural Threads: Transnational Textiles Today. London:
Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

Kroese, W. T. The Origin of the Wax Block Prints on the Coast of West Africa. Utrecht:
Kessels & Smit Publishers, 1976.

LaGamma, Alisa and Christine Giuntini. The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

*Leslau, Charlotte and Wolf Leslau. African Proverbs. White Plains: Peter Pauper Press,
1985.

*Madison, D. Soyini and Karen Tranberg (editors). African Dress: Fashion, Agency, and
Performance. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

*Picton, John. The Art of African Textiles: Technology, Tradition and Lurex. London:
Barbican Art Gallery, 1995.

Picton, John and John Mack. African Textiles. London: British Museum Press, 1995.

*Relph, Magie and Robert Irwin. African Wax Print: A Textile Journey. New Richmond:
Words and Pixels, 2010.

Sho, Suze May and R. Gerards (editors). Vlisco Fabrics. Arnhem: ArtEZ Press, 2012.

*Spring, Chris. African Textiles Today. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2012.

Storey, Joyce. Textile Printing. London: Thames and Hudson, 1974.

Books for Younger Readers

*Bryan, Ashley. The Night Has Ears: African Proverbs. New York: Atheneum Books,
1999.

*Garner, Lynne. Anansi the Trickster Spider. Mad Moment Media, Ltd., 2014.

*Green, Yuko. Traditional African Costumes Paper Dolls. New York: Dover Publications,
1999.

*Hirsch, Rebecca. Africa. Chicago: Children’s Press, 2012.

Musgrove, Margaret, Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon. Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions.
New York: Puffin Books, 1992.

*Woodson, Carter Godwin. African Myths and Folk Tales. Mineola: Dover Publications,
2010.

Online Connections

Online Tools

ABC

This is the website for the ABC company that shares information about the history of wax prints and the history of the company that has its headquarters in Manchester, England, and manufactures goods in Ghana.

Adinkra Symbols

This site presents West African symbols and their meanings.

African Proverbs

This website presents many proverbs and the source countries they are drawn from.

African Textiles

This website contains a page about the history of various African textiles and links to other aspects of African culture.

The African Fabric Shop is a virtual shop in the UK that provides access to information about various African fabrics and textiles—including wax prints. Samples, bolts, and books about these textiles can be purchased through this site.

African Wax Prints: History, Process, and Images

This site is a blog and reflection about wax print fabric, tied to personal experience and history of the cloth.

A website for a fabric sales company that sells varied African fabrics and that features a variety of wax prints, including a commemorative Obama line of fabrics.

The American Museum of Natural History has an online article about the history of wax prints.

This article presents information about the quality of wax prints and how to identify vintage fabrics from copies, etc.

Batik

The Batik Guild’s website features helpful information about the history and process of batik.

This site presents in-depth information about process of batik and history.

This website presents a good introduction to the history and process of batik.

This Youtube video provides a step-by-step look at the batik process.

Teacher Materials about Wax Prints

The Hackney Museum in London hosted an exhibition about African textiles and produced a teacher packet related to African prints.

United States Textile Design

This website lists textile design companies and designers across the U.S.

Vlisco
This site features helpful information about the history of wax prints, the printing process, and specifics about the Vlisco company.

This is the official website for Vlisco, headquartered in Helmond, the Netherlands. It provides general information about the history of wax prints, the products they sell, and stories about how the fabric is entwined with African culture.

Vlisco’s website contains a page with information about various patterns and personal stories tied to customers’ meanings for them.

The New York Times published an article about Vlisco and the history of wax prints. It features general information about the process and product lines and company today.

Educator Info

Discussion Topics

Discussion Topics

Download these discussion topics here.

The wax printing process is identified with and characterized by West Africa, even though the inspiration for the process is inspired by Indonesian batik cloth, and the printing technology and designs originated in England and the Netherlands. Do you think wax print fabric is rightly identified as African? Why or why not?

The designers setting the trends in fabric patterns and style and ultimately boosting sales for companies such as Vlisco and ABC are European—they live and work in the Netherlands and in England. The fabric they design and sell, however, is manufactured and purchased mostly in Africa—95 % of Vlisco’s sales, for example, are in African countries. What do these design teams need to consider and do in order to be successful in their work and benefit the company? What are the pros and cons?

Although wax print fabrics are sold all over the world and are used by famous runway fashion designers internationally (and worn by the rich and famous), they have become part of African cultural identity as they relate messages to viewers through symbols depicted in the prints, signify that the wearer is potentially from West or Central Africa, and sometimes convey aspects of pop and contemporary political culture and commentary through commemorative print fabric. Wearing wax prints in Africa is much more than just “something to wear.” Because of the cultural desire for these fabrics, the cost can sometimes be high—some product lines can be more than $150 a yard (it takes at least two yards to make a simple “wrapper” or pagne). Counterfeit wax print fabrics have in the recent past entered the marketplace—a poorer quality of cotton, lesser dyes, lower quality process, and “fake” company brands are prevalent in this grade of fabrics.

Pretend you are buying fabric. You have a limited budget, and need wax print fabric for a special occasion to have an outfit made. Would you buy the counterfeit fabric or pay the full price for the “authentic” wax print fabric? Why? How does the creation of “fakes” on the market affect the consumer, the distributor, and the product market in general? What are the pros and cons to counterfeit products?

Speaker and Program Ideas

Speaker and Program Ideas

Download these speaker and program ideas here.

African Fashion Show

Reach out to West and Central African immigrant communities in your region or city and collaborate to host a wax print fashion show. Invite individuals from different African countries to showcase their favorite traditional fabrics and regional style. Find an emcee who can share information about the symbolism and history of the varied textiles and style of dress. Pair this event with an African dance or music performance.

Block Printing & Pattern Design

With inspiration from the textiles featured in the exhibition, host a hands-on workshop to create a graphic pattern using printmaking blocks cut from simple materials such as potatoes, meat trays, cut and stacked cardboard, or carved blocks of wood. Each printing block can be stamped onto paper or cloth to create a pattern or repeated motif. Invite a local artist or graphic designer to lead this hands-on workshop about pattern and printing. The workshop content can be adapted for children or adults.

Lecture: The Dutch Colonies and African Trade

Invite a historian who can address the relationship between the Netherlands and Africa (past and present) to discuss the Golden Triangle of trade that led up to the development of the wax print textile industry, and also Vlisco’s current relationship to various countries in Africa.

Wax Prints Teacher Event

Host an afterschool or in-service educator event at your museum specifically for area K-12 teachers to examine aspects of content featured in the exhibition—the geography of West and Central Africa, symbolism of designs and patterns popular in wax prints, cultural traditions, and fashions of Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, etc. Allow time for teachers to explore the exhibition on their own, then discuss teachable topics related to art, history, geography, anthropology, textiles, literature, and other aspects of African culture. Invite guest speakers (as desired), and consider collaborating with area African cultural centers or African studies departments at your local or regional Universities. Make use of the lesson ideas included in this programming guide.

Family Day: Prints

Plan an event for all ages that engages the senses tied to themes in the exhibition. Have a runway fashion show for family day participants that features participants donning African wax print fabric worn as pagnes or “wrappers” by tying pieces of fabric around one’s waist. Engage African drummers or a traditional African musical group and have a folklore reading hour where visitors can listen to African folktales (such as the adventures of Anansi the spider) or read proverbs to share life lessons and morals. Play a game where a proverb is matched with its hidden meaning. Design and print “fabric” using ready made block stamps, or create your own design and print graphic block designs using inspiration from the symbols and shapes found in wax print cloth.

Wrapper and Head Tie DIY Demonstration

Host a hands-on, drop-in demonstration to show how one can manipulate yardage of cloth into simple, wearable garments. Discuss and demonstrate how to cut and finish the edges of the raw cloth, and tie them into a skirt-like “wrapper,” wear on one’s head as a scarf, or use as a shawl to inspire visitors to create pieces at home.

Gallery Talk: Wax Prints

Invite the curator of the exhibition, Gifty Benson, to speak about the collection on view: to discuss the history and function of wax prints, the hidden meaning of some of the designs, and the styles of garments made from wax prints and worn in various countries of Africa.

Illustrated Lecture: Textile Design in the U.S.A.

Invite a textile designer in the United States to speak about their work, studio, and the process of designing and manufacturing fabrics in the US in comparison to companies such as ABC and Vlisco and the wax printing process.

Batik Workshop

With inspiration from the textiles on view in the exhibition, host a hands-on workshop on the history and technique of batik. Invite a nationally know or local textile artist to teach the process. Consider collaborating with your local college or university’s textile department.

African Proverbs, Myths, and Folktale Reading

Host a public reading of African proverbs, myths, and folktales, and discuss the symbolism or take-away messages from each text. Relate several proverbs and folk tales to specific fabrics and their patterns featured in the exhibition. Invite a professor of African languages and literature or a local resident familiar with aspects of African culture to read and discuss them.

Lesson Ideas

Lesson Ideas

Download all lesson ideas (including connections to the National Visual Arts Standardshere.

Lesson 1: Print a Pattern

Grade Levels 5–12

Summary

Taking inspiration from geometric and biomorphic shapes featured in the colorful patterns of African wax print fabric, invite students to design several graphic printing blocks. Then, using colored printing ink or acrylic paint, print these motifs in a repeated fashion on paper or cloth to make a distinctive, colorful, and bold pattern.

Objectives

  • Students will learn about geometric and biomorphic shapes.
  • Students will understand the process of block printing and stamping.
  • Students will learn the difference between a motif and a pattern.
  • Students will consider how different color combinations create various mood and effect.
  • Students will learn about various African symbols and how some are tied to proverbs and folklore.
  • Students will make connections between the design of African wax print fabric and their own design.

Materials Needed

  • Access to works on view in Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints
  • Access to the internet for additional research and images for comparison/contrast
  • Access to books, images, and information about African Wax prints
  • Acrylic paint or printer’s speedball ink in several colors (at least three)
  • A brayer for spreading the ink out onto a flat surface
  • A flat surface (Plexi sheet or piece of glass, or a foam meat tray) for rolling ink
  • Fresh potatoes
  • Paring knives
  • Pencils and pens
  • Scissors and x-acto knives
  • Hot glue gun and glue or other adhesive
  • Small (two, three, or four inch), square blocks of wood
  • An old yoga mat, cut into small squares for cutting designs
  • Sheets of 18 x 24 inch paper (plain newsprint or other sheets to print upon)
  • Pieces of plain cotton fabric (if desired)

Lesson Time

  • One class period to explore and experience the exhibition Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints
  • One class period to lead a follow-up discussion about the history of wax prints and symbolism of various designs, and to research, discuss, and explore various patterns and color combinations online (examine Adinkra symbols from Ghana in resources section)
  • One class period to introduce and demonstrate tools and techniques for carving a printing block design into a potato, or carving/cutting a design into a sheet of yoga mat pad and gluing it onto a wooden block, inking the print blocks, and making the print
  • One class period to create the prints and experiment with various patterns and color combinations

Lesson Procedures

Step one

Following a tour of the Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints exhibition, spend a class period further contextualizing and discussing aspects of wax print fabric. Share where the technique originated, how the printing technology developed in England and the Netherlands, and then became an important part of West and Central African culture. Share what various patterns mean to people in different parts of Central and West Africa. Examine traditional Adinkra symbols of Ghana and share what they mean. Examine prints in which traditional Adinkra motifs are incorporated into wax fabric designs.

Step two

Introduce the basic elements of block printing by demonstrating how to carve a potato into a printing block using a paring knife. Show how to use a brayer roller to evenly distribute ink onto a smooth surface and then roll ink over the surface of the carved block. Press the inked block onto paper to get a desirable printed effect. Demonstrate how to also create a printing block using a small piece of wood, hot glue, and a small piece of yoga mat foam. Carve a design into the mat foam using an x-acto knife and then glue it directly onto the block. When glue dries, use the brayer to roll ink over the surface of the wood block print. Print the design on paper.

Step three

Invite students to conceptualize a pattern by repeating the motifs of the printing blocks to create a design on an 18 x 24 inch sheet of paper or piece of plain cotton fabric. Have students incorporate three colors into the design, by inking and printing one color at a time.

Step four

Once patterns are printed, let the ink dry. Display them as a group to compare and contrast color combinations and creative designs as a group.

Resourceshttp://www.adinkra.org/htmls/adinkra/akom.htm

Lesson 2: Discussing and Decoding Proverbs and Folktales

Grade Levels 6–8

Summary

This activity introduces various African proverbs and folktales and provides a platform for discussion about what each may mean and what moral messages the reader takes away after listening to them. After reading aloud selected proverbs and folktales, discuss what tribes or countries they originate from (if known) and share some cultural context about the people and where they live. Invite students to research and discover a folktale or a proverb (from any culture if desired) that they like and write about its meaning and origination. Each student can then read his/her selections aloud as a class and discuss his/her own interpretation of the proverb and folktale to share its meaning.

Objectives

  • Students will understand the definition of a proverb, folktale, and metaphor.
  • Students will understand what hidden messages are related to particular African stories and proverbs.
  • Students will consider what folktales and proverbs have special meaning for each of them and share why.

Materials Needed

  • Online access to view website resources (see resources section)
  • Access to texts that travel with this exhibition (see resources section)
  • Paper
  • Pencils or pens

Lesson Time

  • One class period to view the exhibition Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints
  • One class period to read and discuss proverbs and folktales and relate them to particular symbols and patterns depicted in the exhibition
  • One class period for students to share researched and selected favorite proverbs and folktales as a group

Lesson Procedures

Step one

Following a tour of the Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints exhibition, introduce the concept of a proverb (a short saying that states a truth or communicates a piece of advice) and that of a folktale (a traditional story or legend from a culture or a common people that informs oral traditions or beliefs). Discuss how several of the prints in the exhibition are inspired by or relate to traditional folktales, symbols, or related messages. Spend a class period reading several selections from the books African Proverbs, Anansi the Trickster Spider, and/or African Myths and Folktales texts that travel with this exhibition.

Step two

Reread several of the proverbs and folktales aloud and discuss the hidden messages, morals, and/or meanings behind them.

Step three

Invite students to research a folktale and proverb (from another culture if desired) they find interesting. Have each student read aloud their selected folk story and proverb and describe how he or she interpreted it and what it may mean.

Resources

http://africa.mrdonn.org/anansi.html

http://afritorial.com/the-best-72-african-wise-proverbs/

Garner, Lynne. Anansi the Trickster Spider. Mad Moment Media, Ltd., 2014.

Lesau, Charlotte and Wolf. African Proverbs. White Plains: Peter Pauper Press, 1985.

Woodson, Carter Gowin. African Myths and Folk Tales. Mineola: Dover Publications Inc., 2009.

Selected Proverbs To Discuss and Interpret

“Wood already touched by fire is not hard to set alight.” (Ashanti)

“Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.” (Ashanti)

“Hunger is felt by a slave and hunger is felt by a king.”(Ashanti)

“There is no medicine to cure hatred.”(Ashanti)

“No one tests the depths of the river with both feet.” (Ashanti)

“He who hunts two rats, catches none.” (Buganda)

“Rain does not fall on one roof alone.” (Cameroon)

“You cannot build a house for last year’s summer.” (Ethiopia)

“She who does not yet know how to walk, cannot climb a ladder.” (Ethiopia)

“He who does not know one thing knows another.” (Kenya)

“Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodiles won’t eat you.” (Madagascar)

A Selected Folktale to Discuss and Interpret

The Lion, the Leopard, and the Dog

The lion, the leopard, and the dog were living together. They heard the news that the goat had built a big town.

The lion said to the leopard, “We had better wage war on that town, as we have nothing to eat.”

So the two joined and carried on war against goat-town. They fought a whole day but were unable to take the town and were driven back.

They went back and told the dog of their misfortune and that he must join them in another attempt to take goat town. The next morning the three went, and after fighting all day they took the town.

When they went into the town they found only one goat and one cat. The lion caught the goat and the cat and said they were going to carry them away. The cat did not wish to be tied, and asked to be left untied so that he could dance.

The lion said, “All right.”

Then the goat said, “You should leave me untied as I am a doctor.”

So they left both untied.

“Let me see you dance now,” said the lion. The cat began to dance and he danced well.

Then he said, “I can jump.” “Jump then,” said the lion. The cat jumped over the barricade and ran into the bush.

The lion turned to the goat and said, “You are a doctor. Well, the cat has run away. I want you to try your medicine, so that we can catch him.”

Then, the lion, the leopard, and the dog all closed up around the goat to prevent his getting away as the cat had done.

The goat told the lion to bring him one large pot. The pot was brought. The goat put his hand in his bag, and he took out one bottle filled with honey. He placed the honey in the pot.

“You must put a cloth over me and the pot,” said the goat. The lion did not know that the goat had honey, he thought it was water in the pot.

The goat took a spoon and gave the lion some of the honey in the pot, saying, “This is some of the water my medicine gave me.”

When the lion tasted the honey he said, “Oh you are a doctor for true.” The lion said, “I know you are a doctor now, so make me some medicine to wear around my neck.”

The goat told the lion that the medicine they wear around the neck is put up in leopard skin so could he could get some of the skin.

“All right,” said the lion.

The lion started after the leopard, and the leopard ran, and the lion after him, and the dog followed. So the goat made his escape back the other way.

So the lion dislikes the leopard, the leopard dislikes the goat, and the goat dislikes the dog.

More Words of Wisdom

  1. There is no medicine for hate.
  2. He is a heathen who bears malice.
  3. Wrangling is the father of fighting.
  4. Men despise what they do not understand.
  5. He who injures another brings injury upon himself.
  6. Hate the evil which a man does, but do not hate the man himself.
  7. The evil-doer is very anxious.
  8. If you love yourself others will hate you; if you humble yourself others will love you.

Lesson 3: Batik Making Made Easy

(provided by batik artist Tunde Odunlade)

Grade Levels 5–12

Summary

This activity introduces students to the process of batik using simple dyes, melted hot wax, and paper to emulate batik on fabric.

What is Batik?

A batik is a piece of cloth or any fiber material that is waxed and dyed. To make a batik, one uses a methodology of wax resistance against dyes.

There are different kinds of wax to use in making a batik: bee’s, paraffin, candle, encaustic, and cassava wax are among several options. An artist choses wax based on the desired effect. For a batik on paper, it is preferable to use bee’s wax (thickest wax), paraffin (medium thickness), or a candle wax (thick). The less thick the hot wax, the more easily it cracks when it is when cool, and therefore easily removable. The more the wax cracks, the more liquid color dyes penetrate the wax going into the surface of the paper or fabric. This effect of wax cracking when cool creates the various dyed lines and “crackled” look of a finished batik.

Traditionally, the choice of dyes differs from region and country. Any local dyes purchased from an artist’s supply store will work. Simply follow the directions on the dye package for instruction.

SAFETY NOTE: Wax melts at 350 degrees and then will need to be reduced to a heat of a constant 250 degrees until ready to apply the wax on material. Always use caution when using melted wax. Hot wax can create a third-degree burn if spilled on one’s skin, so always be mindful of wax spillage or wax dropping on any part of the body. Melted wax always needs to be monitored as it can catch on fire and smoke if too hot.

Objectives

  • Students will understand the process of batik.
  • Students will experiment with and understand the basic techniques of batik.
  • Students will understand elements of design to make a pattern.
  • Students will consider color harmony by choosing a palette.
  • Students will experiment with free-hand drawing to make a design.

Materials Needed

  • Foam brushes
  • Paint brushes, a tjanting (or a self-made pencil for applying/drawing on the wax)
  • Bee’s wax, paraffin, or candle wax to melt
  • “Rit” fabric dyes (one to three colors)
  • Plastic containers for storing separate dye colors
  • A hot plate or electric skillet upon which to place an aluminum pie tin container full of wax
  • Paper (watercolor paper, printmaking paper, or handmade paper that is absorbent)
  • Sketch paper
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Newspapers
  • Old clothes iron

Lesson Time

  • One class period to introduce batik, history, and process, and to start the project
  • One, two, or three class periods (as desired) to work on the project and experiment with multiple colors of dye

Lesson Procedures

Step one

Place the solid wax in an aluminum container on a hot plate or electric skillet to melt the wax. Set the heat to 350 degrees until the wax melts down completely, then lower to 250 degrees.

Step two

Using inspiration from the exhibition and various fabric patterns, think of a simple design and sketch ideas on a piece of paper using pencil. Consider repeating one design on the sheet of sketch paper to create a pattern. If desired, lightly sketch this design in pencil onto a sheet of watercolor, printmaking, or handmade paper.

Step three

After a demonstration of how to use a paintbrush, foam brush, pencil, or tjanting as a wax applicator, dip the tjanting, foam, or paintbrush in the heated wax for two–three minutes.

Step four

Place the sheet of absorbent paper (watercolor, printmaking, or handmade) flat on the table in front of you, apply the wax to the desired areas (either on your pencil drawn image or form an image by waxing directly onto the paper “free-style”). Please note, the image works in reverse— the areas waxed will retain the color of the material. Any unwaxed areas will absorb the applied colored dye(s).

Step five

Having waxed all desired areas, mix the “Rit” dyes per the packaging instructions and place each color in a separate plastic container. Apply the first dye colors as desired to the paper using paintbrushes or foam brushes. It is advisable to work from the lightest colors to the darkest colors. Don’t let the paper soak too much liquid dye to prevent the paper from falling apart.

Step six

Allow the liquid dye to dry completely on the paper, and if so desired, continue waxing again to add more colors. Remember that the areas waxed are those that retain colors. Apply wax and dye several times, allowing dye to dry on paper to get desired colors. Apply the final color after having waxed and dyed as many times as desired. The final color should be darker than all the applied, waxed, and dyed colors. Let dye dry.

Step seven

Place sheets of newspaper on the table and place your dried, waxed, and dyed paper on it. Place another piece of newspaper on top of it. Plug in the iron and set it to the hottest setting. When hot, move the iron back and forth slowly on the newspaper and apply force. The newspaper will absorb the melted wax. Replace the newspaper if soaked with wax. Repeat moving the hot iron over the wax, drawing until all the wax is removed.

Resources

Lesson 1: Print a Pattern

Lesson 1: Print a Pattern

Grade Levels 5–12

Summary

Taking inspiration from geometric and biomorphic shapes featured in the colorful patterns of African wax print fabric, invite students to design several graphic printing blocks. Then, using colored printing ink or acrylic paint, print these motifs in a repeated fashion on paper or cloth to make a distinctive, colorful, and bold pattern.

Objectives

  • Students will learn about geometric and biomorphic shapes.
  • Students will understand the process of block printing and stamping.
  • Students will learn the difference between a motif and a pattern.
  • Students will consider how different color combinations create various mood and effect.
  • Students will learn about various African symbols and how some are tied to proverbs and folklore.
  • Students will make connections between the design of African wax print fabric and their own design.

Materials Needed

  • Access to works on view in Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints
  • Access to the internet for additional research and images for comparison/contrast
  • Access to books, images, and information about African Wax prints
  • Acrylic paint or printer’s speedball ink in several colors (at least three)
  • A brayer for spreading the ink out onto a flat surface
  • A flat surface (Plexi sheet or piece of glass, or a foam meat tray) for rolling ink
  • Fresh potatoes
  • Paring knives
  • Pencils and pens
  • Scissors and x-acto knives
  • Hot glue gun and glue or other adhesive
  • Small (two, three, or four inch), square blocks of wood
  • An old yoga mat, cut into small squares for cutting designs
  • Sheets of 18 x 24 inch paper (plain newsprint or other sheets to print upon)
  • Pieces of plain cotton fabric (if desired)

Lesson Time

  • One class period to explore and experience the exhibition Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints
  • One class period to lead a follow-up discussion about the history of wax prints and symbolism of various designs, and to research, discuss, and explore various patterns and color combinations online (examine Adinkra symbols from Ghana in resources section)
  • One class period to introduce and demonstrate tools and techniques for carving a printing block design into a potato, or carving/cutting a design into a sheet of yoga mat pad and gluing it onto a wooden block, inking the print blocks, and making the print
  • One class period to create the prints and experiment with various patterns and color combinations

Lesson Procedures

Step one

Following a tour of the Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints exhibition, spend a class period further contextualizing and discussing aspects of wax print fabric. Share where the technique originated, how the printing technology developed in England and the Netherlands, and then became an important part of West and Central African culture. Share what various patterns mean to people in different parts of Central and West Africa. Examine traditional Adinkra symbols of Ghana and share what they mean. Examine prints in which traditional Adinkra motifs are incorporated into wax fabric designs.

Step two

Introduce the basic elements of block printing by demonstrating how to carve a potato into a printing block using a paring knife. Show how to use a brayer roller to evenly distribute ink onto a smooth surface and then roll ink over the surface of the carved block. Press the inked block onto paper to get a desirable printed effect. Demonstrate how to also create a printing block using a small piece of wood, hot glue, and a small piece of yoga mat foam. Carve a design into the mat foam using an x-acto knife and then glue it directly onto the block. When glue dries, use the brayer to roll ink over the surface of the wood block print. Print the design on paper.

Step three

Invite students to conceptualize a pattern by repeating the motifs of the printing blocks to create a design on an 18 x 24 inch sheet of paper or piece of plain cotton fabric. Have students incorporate three colors into the design, by inking and printing one color at a time.

Step four

Once patterns are printed, let the ink dry. Display them as a group to compare and contrast color combinations and creative designs as a group.

Resourceshttp://www.adinkra.org/htmls/adinkra/akom.htm