Kuba Shoowa Textile

Stunning stylized, cut-pile Kuba Shoowa textile.
Tribe: Kuba

Origin: DRC

Approx Age: Mid 20th Century

Materials: Raffia

Dimensions cm: 53 x 51

Ref. Number: 1107


This Kuba Shoowa textile has a simple geometric design, golden brown raffia weaved backing with the use of black dyed raffia embroidered to create the square shapes that make up the overall pattern/design. Within the squares, smaller squares have been sewn to add more texture and produce a more raised quality and luxury to this piece.

Provenance: Ex Seward Kennedy Collection.


The most commonly known of the Kuba textiles are the cut-pile Shoowas or Kassai Velvets. Named after the river along which the BaKuba inhabit. Sometimes ‘Buiin’ (plural) or ‘Winu’ (singular), which means ” design” is used to identify these squared velvets, as is Shobo or Shoba, a term which appears more frequently in recent literature. Work on high-quality velvet can last a month if not longer. First, the embroidery is laid on a basic square of raffia cloth that will have been woven by the men of the village, as it is the job of the men of the village to both collect the raw palm leaves and process them to the stage where it is the women, whose job it is, to do the embroidery. The embroidery process then begins, passing a strand of raffia thread through a needle, then passing the needle in and out of the cloth underneath the warp and weft thread. In the end, the strand is cut with a small knife so that only a few millimetres remain visible. The weaver then repeats this process until a linear block of the same colour has been completed. The work continues until the entire base cloth is concealed by embroidery. The combination of colour blocks produces the interlaces and knotted, undulating designs. Improvisation and irregularity characterize the Kassai Velvets. This is because the weaver/embroiderer works without a planned pattern or sketch. Often the design is built up and created from memory, repeating the most common designs and colour combinations found in the region. The message conveyed is up to the artist, who is the only one who can explain what she intended to represent. A typical sized finished piece of embroidered cloth is generally about 61cm x 46cm or thereabouts. Some of these cut-pile cloths are very finely textures, while others may be much thicker and plush. Hundreds of patterns can be found on the cut-pile shoowa embroidery. The most widely use motifs include juxtaposed lozenges, interlaces, rectilinear designs, spirals, circles, semi-spherical designs and meanders. Although both Kassai Velvets/Shoowa textiles have been described as austere, subtle and monochromatic, they nonetheless have a powerful impact on the viewer.

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