In early September, alumni Keidra Daniels Navaroli (MA ’07) and Carla Funk (MA ’96) hosted the opening of Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints at the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Art in Melbourne, Florida.
Funk, executive director and chief curator for university museums, and Navaroli, assistant director and curator, helm the curatorial team of the Ruth Funk Center at the Florida Institute of Technology. The Center, which opened in 2009, is one of few in the country dedicated to the collection and conservation of textile and fiber art from around the world.
Through December 15, the Center hosts Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints. The exhibition is a tribute to the century-old handmade designs and patterns on textiles that originated in Indonesia, were copied and industrialized by Europeans, and exported to West Africa. “We have a variety of African textiles in our permanent collection and, though these reflect a number of indigenous traditions, we welcomed the opportunity to give context to textiles whose history is so intimately tied to industrial modernization, Western colonization and the rise of the global economy,” says Navaroli.
Clothing in Africa serves as an important means of social communication, and the popularity of the wax prints is a reflection of the culture, taste and desires of African consumers. Better known by its Javanese description as batik, the objects on display are manufactured versions of the traditional technique of wax-resist dyeing. Invented in the nineteenth century to establish an export market in Indonesia, industrialized wax prints ultimately proliferated along the coasts of trade-rich West Africa, where they were adopted alongside established traditions. Though not originally African, these textiles have become ingrained in many regions of African culture and society.
Working with collector Dr. Gifty Benson, the Center has expanded the travelling exhibition to more than double its original content and uniquely designed its gallery space to showcase nearly 150 textiles. Funk writes:
Keidra oversaw the stunning installation with such creativity. The visual impact is spectacular and the cultural story of the cloth is fascinating. She’s done a great job, and the exhibit is perfect for our globally diverse campus.
Above, photos from the opening and (center) detail of of Record (also known as Asubura, Water Well, or The Target), introduced 1936, manufactured by Vlisco, Netherlands; Dutch Wax Block on cotton, 48 x 12 inches; Courtesy of Beatrice Benson Collection. Photos courtesy of the Ruth Funk Center and Kristen Klein.