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Date: early 20th century
Medium:Palm leaf fiber (raffia)
Geographic Location: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Dimensions: Overall: 32 1/2 x 192 1/2 in. (82.55 cm x 4 m 88.95 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.
Object Number: 1984.162.McD

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Raffia forest     Raffia Forest 2     Raffia Forest 3     Raffia Forest 4

All photographs © JoAnn Neal


Although this drawing was made in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the Kuba women have continued to wear appliquéd raffia wrappers into the present era.



Kuba women wearing appliquéd raffia wrappers dance during the itul ceremony. Bushoong Village, Democratic Republic of the Congo, c. 1971.



A Bonwit Teller advertisement for fashions inspired by Kuba cut-pile cloth and Bushoong raffia cloth textile designs. "Women's Wear" section of the New York Times, April 14, 1923.





Encouraging Dialogue
1. Though we are not aware of the specific meaning of the patterns on this Kuba textile, skirts like this were worn by fashionable women during celebrations to display wealth. What do the clothes you wear say about you? Where do the patterns or graphics on your favorite clothes come from?
2. Is it unusual to see clothing in an art museum? Why or why not? Why might this skirt belong on display in an art museum?
3. Weaving, in the Kuba culture, is considered men’s work while embroidery and stitching are considered the sole domain of women. What do you think of as “men’s” work and what do you consider “women’s” work. Consider where your ideas about division of labor may originate or what influences them, and whether or not your ideas have changed over time. 
4. Why are certain motifs or patterns more valuable than others? Why, for example does a Burberry scarf cost over three hundred dollars while a similar scarf from Target costs ten?  What factors may influence or determine the value of clothing?
Making Connections
1. Explore clothes-making traditions in two African cultures through a comparison of the Cape (linage), which comes from the Ndebele peoples of South Africa and this Skirt with grey applique. What similarities or differences do you see between the Skirt and the Cape?
2. Listen to this radio segment: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2010/11/19/131450313/the-friday-podcast-pietra-rivoli-s-t-shirt-travels. Then, research your favorite article of clothing. Where did its materials come from? Where was it assembled? Consider the difference between a culture that primarily buys its clothes from the world market and one, like the Kuba culture, which makes weaving and embroidery a valued form of art and expression.
3. Cut a sheet of cloth or paper to the measurements of this Skirt to get a sense of its size. View one of the photographs of Kuba women wearing a skirt in the Extended Information section of these resources. Using the cloth or paper, dress a classmate in a similar way to the photograph.  What does it feel like to wear this?
4. Look closely at the motifs and patterns on the Skirt. While Kuba women often used traditional patterns and designs that were handed down, innovation was also valued. Select a pattern that is familiar to you (examples: checkerboard, argyle, stripes, etc.). Draw the pattern on half of a sheet of graph paper, on the other half diverge from the standard pattern. While keeping some aspects of the original pattern, make an innovative design through variations of size, color, and shape. 

5. Different members of the Kuba community are assigned to specific tasks in the creation of Kuba textiles. Design a work of art which involves a multi-step process. Divide into small groups and determine which group will complete each task. Following the creation of the work, reflect on the various tasks and the group effort to complete the work. 



Reference Books:
Gillow, John. African Textiles: Color and Creativity Across a Continent. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1986.
Meurant, Georges. Shoowa Design: African Textiles from the Kingdom of Kuba. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 1986.
Picton, John and John Mack. African Textiles. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.
Books for Students:
Heale, Jay. Lin, Yong J. Cultures of the World: Democratic Republic of Congo. Benchmark Books, 2009.
Learn facts about Africa’s geography and ethnic groups on this Web site from the California Academy of Sciences.
View works of art up close and learn more about African life by visiting this Web site from the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
This timeline gives a history of Africa through its art.
Find out more about the diversity of African art by visiting the National Museum of African Art’s Web site.
This museum has several pieces of Kuba art and a description of the Kuba culture.
This blog is dedicated to bark cloth weaving in Uganda. Though the Kuba peoples come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it contains a wealth of information about how bark cloth is made and woven, and it contains contemporary examples of clothing woven from bark cloth.



Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood.  Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging.  In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy.  Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.


  1. Consider the Museum Setting

Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions.  Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture.  These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects.  Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.


  1. Provide Context and Narrative

When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used.  Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today.  Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way. 


Equally important to context is geography.  Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures.  A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes. 


  1. Use Inclusive Language

Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases.  By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider.  Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.”  Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion.  Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.


  1. Carefully Select Vocabulary

When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures.  Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity.  Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc.  This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions. 

Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).


  1. Avoid Decontextualizing Activities

Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context.  Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context.  (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit)  Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied. 


  1. Find Common Connections

Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires.  We all seek to understand the world and our place within it.  Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples.  Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own.  While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion.  Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate. 


  1. Consider the Study of Cultures

In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely.  Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement.  This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures.  Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others. 




Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.


Eck, Diana L. On Common Ground: World Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2006. 


Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.


Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World.  Information Age Publishing, 2009.


Prothero, Stephen.  God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter.  Harper One, 2010.


Prothero, Stephen.  Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t.  San Francisco: Harper, 2007.


Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.


Said, Edward.  Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.


“A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools”