Aso ikele (1948)
Used clothes from Manchester, printed fabric from Nigeria
Aso Ikele, meaning ‘cloth used to protect the home’ in the Yoruba language, is a textile work made for ‘We Face Forward’ exhibition and it takes the Whitworth Art Gallery’s textile collection as its starting point. The collection ranges from textiles made in Manchester for export to the West African market in the eighteenth century, to fabrics by contemporary makers in Mali who supply DKNY with hand-spun cotton.
Combining materials and narratives from Lagos and Manchester, Udondian weaves myths and histories into her own textiles, creating her own hybrids and questioning how stories become histories by generating fictitious histories to accompany her piece.
About Aso Ikele (1948)
The name, Aso Ikele, meaning ‘cloth used to protect the home’ in the Yoruba language, originates from the Yorubaland in Nigeria. Given the provisional date of 1948, parts of the textile may be much older and some sections much more recent, but presented only with the material itself, and the history of its probable homeland, we can only conjecture about its true origins and exact date.
The textile is divided into three panels, the left and right panels longer and more colourful, and the central panel almost exclusively woven with a white border. Each panel has a centrepiece from which each woven section appears to radiate. These central sections are certainly much older than the surrounding sections, and appear to be produced by a different hand to the outer parts. Of particular interest is the burlap centre-piece on the left-hand panel. This section is inscribed with text, which may possibly have some ritual significance. The fabric has been repaired several times, implying a regular use, but for purposes unknown.
As Venice Lamb and Judy Holmes have attested in African Weaving (Duckworth 1975), ‘Nigeria has a tradition of weaving and dyeing of textiles which was of international importance long before the first European reached the shores of West Africa in the fifteen century’. The techniques and patterns of Aso Ikele are undoubtedly drawn from this rich history, but its sections imply a long period of making and remaking, utilising sections of older fabric.
Possibly the first European to see the early sections of Aso Ikele might have been the German archaeologist and anthropologist, Leo Frobenius, who visited Ife in Nigeria in 1910. Although only in the region for barely three weeks, Frobenius’ study was the accepted and only written view of Ife for some 50 years. His expedition’s primary purpose was to enrich the collections of German museums, and an account written in 1959 described Frobenius as ‘merely extract[ing] possessions by a combination of browbeating and exploitation…’ Frobenius was also the inventor of a spurious myth, proposing that a lost European civilization was the root of African culture and social structure.
One possible route by which Aso Ikele may have come to Manchester is with Frank Willett, who was Keeper of the Department of Ethnology and General Archaeology, at the Manchester Museum from 1950 to 1958. The majority of the Nigerian textiles in the Whitworth Art Gallery come from Willett, who made his first visit to Nigeria in 1956. If the textile was brought to the UK by Willett, no documents exist and it is unclear if the outer sections would have been in place then.
Careful analysis of these outer sections reveals buttons and labels, demonstrating that the outer section is in fact entirely made of clothes.
Amafu Fabric – 1878
Installation, mixed textiles, paper, fabric paint, thread,
Variable (about 548cm X 336cm X 270cm )