Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints

On February 2 during First Friday Art Crawl, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities will premiere Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints in the South Gallery at 101 Archer. This vivid exhibition documents the history and development of the handmade designs and patterns on textiles that originated in Indonesia and were copied and industrialized by Europeans and exported to Africa.

Wandering Spirit is curated by Dr. Gifty Benson and organized by ExhibitsUSA/Mid-America Arts Alliance of Kansas City, Missouri. It traces the developmental pathway of African wax prints and tells how these fabrics reflect the stories, cultures and personalities of the people who wear them.

Stan Florek describes batik in an article for the Australian Museum, writing,
“batik is a process of applying wax and dyes to fabric to achieve intricate and colourful patterns.” He continues, “the tradition of batik is particularly prevalent on the Indonesian island of Java and was handed down from generation to generation and was usually an occupation of village women” (Florek). To produce batik fabrics, one melts down wax and applies it to textiles, often using woodblock prints or a distinctive writing tool called a canting. After an involved dyeing process, the wax is removed, leaving the elaborate designs to stand out against the freshly dyed fabric. While eighteenth-century Dutch traders introduced the textiles to the African market, Black indentured soldiers, who fought for the Netherlands throughout the nineteenth century, brought these wax prints back with them to West Africa, weaving them more fully into the social fabric.

An article by the University of Nebraska describes the prevalence of batik in Africa: “the success of wax prints in parts of Africa is driven by many factors including culture, taste and the styling preferences of African consumers.” The article continues, “the history of the African wax print is a history embedded in colonial trade routes and dependent on globalization in the post colonial era. Though not originally African, these textiles are widely associated with African culture and society, and loved and identified as Africans’ own.” (“Wandering Spirit”).

Beyond the culture of fast fashion, Wandering Spirit highlights the artistry and cross-pollination inherent in history and production of batik fabrics.

The exhibition will close March 30. Admission is free. The gallery is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon until 5 p.m.