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PONGO Mbuti – Pygmy Barkcloth

During the NYICS & Sartirana Textile Show, David Sorgato will be focused on the Mbuti – Pygmy Barkcloth, in Uganda. The Bark cloth making is an ancient craft which is part of the Unesco’s list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Umanity since 2005. Bark cloth has traditionally been the clothing of the Pygmies. It is worn in many ways: wrapped around the waist, or sometimes passed between the legs and held in place by a belt of braided vines. The large pieces were made by women to receive their newborn children. As trees were considered sacred, the bark was assumed to have a protective quality. The elaborate process of preparing and painting a barkcloth is a social activity, and Mbuti learn how to make barkcloth from an early age. With the introduction of cotton cloth by Arab caravan traders in the nineteenth century, production slowed and eventually faded out, reducing the wearing of bark cloth to particular cultural and spiritual functions. Nevertheless, bark cloth is still highly recognized among the Baganda community as a marker of their specific political and cultural traditions. In recent years, the production of bark cloth has been particularly encouraged and promoted in the Buganda kingdom. The Mbuti people decorate barkcloths with abstract imagery that expresses the life, motion, sound and shape of their forest world. The Mbuti barkcloth paintings conceptualize their world; they are abstract expressions of the moods and features of the forest. The paintings are evidence of the Mbuti perception of the forest as the spiritual and symbolic core of their culture. The artists combine a variety of biomorphic motifs (e.g. butterflies, birds, leopard spots) with geometric patterns that give an impression of motion, sound and shape within the forest landscape: light filtered through trees, buzzing insects, ant trails, tangled vines.
 
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