Arts + Culture

Textile trifecta: Three exhibitions open in late summer at Fowler Museum at UCLA

African-print cloths from the Fowler Museum collection
Photo: Don Cole

Array of African-print cloths from the Fowler Museum collection.

The Fowler Museum’s vast collection of more than 120,000 examples of world arts includes an important repository of more than 20,000 textiles that trace the history of cloth over two millennia and across five continents.

In conjunction with the museum’s 50th anniversary, the Fowler will present three textile exhibitions this summer.

Fowler in Focus: Yards of Style, African-Print Cloths of Ghana
Aug. 24–Dec. 14

The larger markets in West Africa offer everything from foodstuffs to scrap metal to used clothing — they also boast hundreds and hundreds of stalls filled with printed cloth. With some vendors selling just a few cloths and others featuring enormous stacks of 6- and 12-yard panels, these markets offer something for everyone. Ubiquitous throughout urban and rural Africa as garments and headwraps, African-print cloths are also popping up on fashion-show runways and in retail fashion catalogs in the U.S. and Europe.

African market vendors may carry cloths made in Holland, Ghana and other West African nations, as well as China, assuring a wide choice of prices and styles that will cater to their diverse customer base. The vibrant visual imagery on the textiles is equally varied, from everyday items like car keys, neckties, clothespins, electric fans, and cell phones, to swords and royal regalia, to the likenesses of world leaders and sports celebrities like Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Muhammad Ali, to name just a few.

As such, these double-sided, factory-produced cloths communicate messages about individual and community values, reveal perspectives on taste and fashion, and offer telling insights into the global economy.

This exhibition is curated by Betsy D. Quick, director of education and curatorial affairs at the Fowler, with Suzanne Gott, professor of art history and visual culture in the department of critical studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.

Textiles of Timor, Island in the Woven Sea
Sept. 7–Jan. 4

Women on the island of Timor weave some of the most colorful and varied textiles in Southeast Asia. These cloths are primary vehicles of cultural expression, and they continue to be made, used and exchanged in ways that reveal deep social, religious, historical and political meanings. "Textiles of Timor, Island in the Woven Sea" is the first major exhibition to focus on Timor’s rich textile arts. See 50 beautifully dyed and intricately patterned cloths, including many from the Fowler Museum, which maintains one of the world’s most complete and best-documented collections of Timorese textiles.

While Timor’s tragic recent history has promoted separate identities for the two halves of the island, this exhibition integrates material from West Timor, which is a part of Indonesia, and the new nation of Timor-Leste (East Timor). Drawing on new field research, it highlights shared themes that are important in the lives of people from all of the diverse cultural groups on both sides of the border. The title of the project derives from an origin story told in Viqueque, Timor-Leste, about the Sacred Queen who works at her loom weaving the sea. When her child misbehaves and the Queen throws her shuttle in anger, it tears a rent in the woven "sea," creating the island of Timor. This myth serves as the inspiration for exploring the essential place and enduring legacy of textiles in Timorese society.

This exhibition is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and curated by Roy W. Hamilton, the Fowler’s senior curator of Asian and Pacific Collections, and Joanna Barrkman, an independent curator currently contracted to the National Gallery of Australia. Major funding is provided by the R.L. Shep Endowment Fund at the Fowler and the Henry Luce Foundation. Generous support is provided by the UC Pacific Rim Research Program, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and Lloyd Cotsen via the Ahmanson Foundation. Additional support comes from the Stella Krieger Memorial Fund, Avrum and Martha Bluming, the Fowler Textile Council, the UCLA Foundation in memory of Anne Summerfield, and Manus, the support group of the Fowler Museum.

Embroidery as Activism in Post-Apartheid South Africa
Sept. 7–Dec. 7

Artists from two community art groups — the Mapula Embroidery Project, founded in 1991 in Gauteng province outside Pretoria, and Kaross Workers, founded in 1989 in Tzaneen, a rural area in the province of Limpopo — have for several decades used the art of embroidery to express views on diverse issues affecting life in South Africa.

See a selection of these fantastically hued pictorial embroideries, all produced circa 2000, six years after the demise of apartheid, which reveal the deeply political imaginations that have inspired them.

The topics depicted by the artists speak eloquently of historical events, as well as of their own personal experiences. The joyous advent of Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday; the questioning of traditional gender roles; the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other public health issues; and current affairs and global happenings in places as far afield as New York City — all are the subjects of these lyrical yet socially engaged tableaux.

People, animals, trees and buildings embroidered in lilac, green, yellow, and red — colors chosen for their tonal harmonies and sparkling contrast — populate intricate narratives that pulse with life.

This exhibition is organized by Gemma Rodrigues, the Fowler’s curator of African Arts.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country's most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310 825-4361 or visit

Related event:

An Afternoon of Global Textiles!
Sunday, Sept. 7

12:30–2:30 p.m.
Kids in the Courtyard: Now That’s a Wrap!
Learn techniques for making and embellishing textiles.

3–4 p.m.
Fowler OutSpoken
Opening day talk with Roy Hamilton and Joanna Barrkman, curators of "Textiles of Timor, Island in the Woven Sea."

4–5 p.m.
Enjoy refreshment with the curators at a light reception.

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