Material Spotlight: Chitenge

The first workshop took place on October 16th 2016 in New York and had five artists in attendance. The material spotlight for this workshop was Chitenge. This waxed cotton fabric comes in various patterns and is popular throughout the Africa region. Chitenges are commonly used as fabric for clothing, wrapped around the waist, as well as to carry a child - or 'kupapa' as it is called in Nyanja, one of the main languages spoken in Zambia.

The attendees were given materials and tools and were open to create their own pieces. The finished products ranged from mixed media collages to 3D sculptures and head wraps.

Adding to the experience, the attendees were provided with two popular Zambian snacks. The first is biltong, which is a dried beef snack. They also enjoyed vitumbuwa, or fritters, that were made following my grandmother's recipe. Both snacks were devoured by the end of the workshop!

In addition to giving the participants some cultural background on the material being used, I also gave two examples of contemporary designers from the region that embrace and work with the fabric, Lupupa Kabezya-Lewis and Archel Bernard. The fashion line Popoka, by Lupupa Kabezya-Lewis, based in Lusaka, Zambia is known for their simple elegance. The line blends the traditional and modern to create pieces for confident curvier women. The Bombchel Factory, founded by Archel Bernard in Monrovia, Liberia, also has a strong social mission behind the brand. By employing women that have overcome difficult circumstances as a result of health, political, and economic troubles in the country, Archel has created a company that appeals to the cool girls of Monrovia and changes lives along the way. These lines provide a wonderful example of the success coming out of independent businesses and artists that fully embrace the resources available in the region.

The Bombchel Factory website | Popoka on Facebook