Threaded World: Vlisco’s wax printed cloth

 

Vlisco, a Dutch factory founded in 1846, creates  myriad patterns each year in cotton cloth treated – like batik – with wax:  Dutch wax (wax Hollandais).

The history of this manufacture, beginning in the colonial era,  illustrates one aspect of the globalization of the world. 

It is part, of course, of a much longer history of the  movement of textiles across the world. 

The period here is between 1850 and the present.

 

 

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The artist, Yinka Shonibare, comments on the violence and coercion which has frequently accompanied the encounters of cultures.

 

 

 

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View of Girl Ballerina, 2007, mannequin, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile and antique flintlock.

Yinka Shonibare, British-Nigerian born 1962.

 

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The Little Dancer, executed in wax 1878-81, in bronze after 1922.

Edgar Degas,1834-1917, French.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

 

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View of Girl Ballerina, 2007, mannequin, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile and antique flintlock.

Yinka Shonibare, British-Nigerian born 1962.

 

 

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Detail of Girl Ballerina, 2007, mannequin, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile and antique flintlock.

Yinka Shonibare, British-Nigerian born 1962.

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018

 

 

 

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All  photos of clothing modeled in their Dutch wax fabric are currently  (January 2020) on Vlisco’s website.  

 

 

 

In the mid-19th century, Vlisco, one of several such companies, evolved mechanical methods to imitate the labour-intensive resist-dyed batik printing of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia): an art and craft imported from India prior to the colonial era.

 

 

 

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Below are photos from an exhibition about Vlisco at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2016

 

 

The company began successfully to export its roller-printed wax cloth to the Dutch East Indies in the early 1850’s. 

Its long-term success, however, was not in these islands but in west and central Africa.

 

 

 

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These fabrics became popular with Akan soldiers recruited from the Dutch Gold Coast to fight in the Dutch army in the Dutch East Indies against local resistance to colonial rule. They served there between 1831 and 1872. 

 

 

 

 

 

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This fabric was also used for barter along the West African coast; barter being a type of exchange which the Dutch, and others, had used since medieval times along this coast. 

 

From the 1880s onwards, Vlisco‘s Dutch wax prints were exported from Holland to the West African coast.

 

 

 

 

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In 2016, there were reported to be 110 Vlisco stores in west and central Africa generating more than 95% of its sales;

and one shop in the Netherlands.

The company, which was sold to a private equity firm, Actis, based in London in 2010, was then reported to be seeking to expand its geographic footprint in Africa and elsewhere.

 

 

 

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Vlisco‘s patterns, whose production involves 27 hand and machine processes, have evolved over more than 150 years of mutual cultural interaction and influence.  They draw their aesthetic from far and wide in the world. 

 

Some patterns are named. Some have lengthy histories.  Others are commemorative designs.  Certain patterns carry symbolic meaning.  Yet others are adapted for use during rites of passage.  

 

 

 

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The originality, complexity and popularity of these patterns – in the face of competition particularly from China –  continue with the four brands which Vlisco now designs and produces – some on the African continent and some in the Netherlands –  for different markets in west and central Africa, and for their diaspora.  

 

 

 

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Here is a kaleidoscopic language of colour, pattern and symbol evolved over decades by individuals and communities, often far physically apart, to reflect particular ways of being.

 

 

 

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Here is an example of a carefully built textile highway across oceans and continents. Now interactively and peaceably maintained and trafficked in both directions. 

 

The whole is dazzling.

 

 

 

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The artist’s recognition here of the fact of globalization as a feature of our history with:

 

its history of violence and of co-optation;

 

and its history of and potential for adaptation, co-operation, creativity, usefulness, and pleasure

 

despite an unbalanced and inequitable world economy.

 

 

 

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Girl on Globe 2. 2011, fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cloth, globe. 

Yinka Shonibare, British-Nigerian born 1962.  Corcoran Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Threaded World: Vlisco’s wax printed cloth

    1. Yes! Which is why it is wonderful to be in India or much of south-east Asia or many parts of Africa where such colours are a part of every day life………..Thanks for taking a look at the post! Sarah

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