When I was 11, we moved to Tanzania. I've never been back but it's probably the place that is most mythologized in my mind. Everything I remember about it is amazing from the beach, to my crew of friends from all over the world, to our house that had a 3 story bougainvillea tree that wrapped around the front porch and wove its way up past the roof.
I remember falling in love with Tanzanian textiles. In particular, I was obsessed with kangas. Kangas are large cotton rectangles, about 40" x 60" and almost always printed with bright colors and patterns. I would watch people in the streets and at the markets as they walked by wearing kangas as skirts or using them to carry babies and balance water jugs. I wondered how they chose that particular one and if the colors and pattern had special meaning to them.
Just like bandanas, kangas have a long and history that spans centuries and continents. I've read that they originated in Zanzibar in the 19th century. They were called 'Merikani' because they were made from cheap cotton imported from the US. They were chiefly worn by enslaved men and women. However, once slavery was abolished, they were reclaimed by women who dyed them and decorated them to show their status and wealth. I've also read that they came from India and were imported into East Africa by Portuguese merchants.
Kangas usually have a message or proverb included in the design. The message is often one of good will or about giving good advice but it can also be political and be a warning.
The ongoing cultural shifts that make kangas what they are is what I find so inspiring. I decided to take a couple of my designs and adapt them into kangas.
The first is this one: Liberty coin. This design was originally for Juneteenth but has a message that is relevant year round. The eyes in the border are about both being under scrutiny but it's also about how we are watching what others do to us and the way that video and body cams are providing visual proof of the discrimination people have been trying to get people to see to for over a century. The poppies are inspired by the wild poppies that grow in June in Texas. The coins themselves are a statement about how true liberty and equality is on our money but not yet available to all of our people.