Mbuti artist Democratic Republic of Congo Barkcloth painting, mid-20th century Fibers, pigment The Mary Ruth Weisel Endowment for Africa, Oceania, and the Americas and gift of Robert T. Coffland in memory of Mary Hunt Kahlenberg 2018.50.21 Photo: Robert Coffland, Santa Fe
In Dialogue with the Forest: Barkcloth Paintings from Congo
February 16, 2019 - November 3, 2019
To make barkcloth, a traditional form of clothing, Mbuti men collect pieces of the inner bark of fig trees, and pound them until they are thin and pliable. Mbuti women decorate the surfaces with intricate designs, using twigs and their fingers to apply dyes made from plant saps and charcoal powder. The abstract paintings express the shapes and motions of the forest—referring to paths, webs, insects, hunting nets, and many other things. These vibrant patterns also refer to the noises of the rainforest and to Mbuti music.
The show displays 15 barkcloths dating from the mid-20th century. Excerpts of Mbuti songs and recordings of the rainforest, played in a continuous loop, create an acoustic ambiance for the paintings.