Out of Africa
When I was nineteen, an art teacher from the academy I attended took us on a field trip to Brussels to visit an exhibit on Kuba cloths. I did not have the faintest idea what to expect and I was blown away by these amazing textiles rivaling - in my humble opinion - the best of what 20th century abstract art can offer us. In fact, so captivating are the geometric patterning, the balance of color, the intricate meshing of decorative techniques, that artists and designers the world over, from Henri Matisse to Paul Klee, have drawn inspiration from them.
Appliquéd Kuba textiles have found a large market in today’s world of interior design and are most often used for upholstery, cushion covers and as wall art. Just a small touch of these artful textiles can transform any room, and their timeless patterns and organic textures work remarkably well within a wide variety of design styles, from traditional to contemporary. In fact, I love this blending of African textiles with minimal Deco-inspired architecture, in a tonal palette of taupes, grey and white. Gorgeous!
Here's an example of kuba cloths that are dyed with twool, a deep red substance obtained from the heartwood of a tropical tree. The Kuba believe that twool is imbued with magical and protective properties. When mixed with palm oil, it creates a pomade that is applied to the face, hair and body in a ritual context.
So renowned are these captivating Kuba patterns that mathematicians from all over the world have studied and analyzed their geometric motifs.
Intricate patterns such as these call for the simplest of shapes: a rectangular screen, a stack of pillows, a simple box cushion for a chair or bench.
Kuba patterns find friends in the most unexpected places: vintage ticking and mattress stripes as well as small scale block prints make great companions for these amazing textiles, especially when executed in a palette of cool neutrals.
While typically neutral and black in color, kuba cloths occasionally have a dash of red. The presence of red hints at the cloth’s pedigree: the Kuba people believed that the red dye extracted from the Baphia pubescens plant held magical, protective powers. Cloths that feature this color were likely ceremonial in nature.
Beautiful and woven rugs and textiles from all over the world such as Kubasadd personality, coziness and a bohemian flair to any interior.
Last but not least, don't be afraid to mix and match styles, periods and countries of origin. Consider instead a monochromatic palette in a variety of interesting textures : the distressed patina of the wall and the hand-knotted fringe of the exotic throw are offset by the modern glass table and simple mid-century modern chairs – a perfect room for the well-travelled iconoclast.