Sunday, May 24, 2009

Adinkra Cloth in the Making

I have been working on two commissioned adinkra cloths this week, and just finished the first one. For those who are not familiar with adinkra, it is a technique that originated in Ghana, in which symbols are stamped on the cloth in a grid pattern. Adinkra cloth was originally used for funerals, but has become a prominent part of Ghanaian culture.

Once we had decided on colors and symbols, the first step was to dye the fabric. I often like to use a grid pattern in the dyeing, because it works well with the stamped grid of adinkra symbols. For this cloth, I used blue, blue violet and violet dyes and created a soft, abstracted grid. Each color was applied by hand to achieve the grid.

The next step was to stamp the grid lines that separate each section of the cloth. Traditionally, a comb dipped in ink would be used. I have never had much success with that method, so I created a stamp with a hot glue gun. The lines are not completely straight, so it has an organic look, similar to that used by dragging a comb across the surface. In most of my other work I have a very loose approach, but for adinkra, I usually do measure to get the grids and lines even. Stamping the grid is actually the most time consuming part of the process because of the measuring involved.

Once the grid was complete, I carved the stamps with the adinkra symbols. In Ghana, the traditional method is to carve the adinkra symbol out of a gourd. I take the modern approach and use stamp carving blocks, available from Speedball, Dick Blick and Nasco. These blocks are very easy to carve with linoleum carving tools. I already have a number of adinkra symbols carved, so for any given project, I usually have to carve only a few stamps. The stamps do wear out from use, so occasionally I have to carve a new stamp when one is not printing a clean image anymore.

Before I begin stamping the adinkra symbols, I always take a few moments to quiet my mind. I focus on the recipient of the cloth, the intended use for the cloth and the symbols chosen. I create a mantra of sorts related to each symbol. As I stamp, it becomes a blessing for the cloth and the recipient.

Check back next week for photos of the second cloth in this series.

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