“Under African Skies” is just where textile artist, African fabric hunter and Quilters’ Guild member Magie Relph spends a great deal of her time.
Some years she spends up to eight weeks ‘on the road’ in Africa. In the heat and the sun and the dust, she rides crowded buses, even more crowded and decrepit ‘tro-tros’ (shared long-distance minibuses) and the occasional horse-drawn cart, as she researches and buys African textiles.
African Odyssey III by Janice Gunner, UK. This quilt was inspired by a present from Magie Relph - a piece of Indigo and kola nut fabric with a large tied circular motif in the centre. I just had to use it in a quilt, but I needed more fabrics to go with it. Another collection was born! Machine pieced, hand and machine quilted. Cotton and polyester wadding. Cotton, rayon invisible and metallic threads. 121 x 100 cm
Some of this fabric she keeps for her private collection and to use in her work as a quilter. The remainder, she sells to other textile artists and quilters through her small fair trade business – The African Fabric Shop.
The exhibition “Under African Skies” marks a very approximate decade of Magie’s “accidential business”. It is her way of saying “thank you” to the small-scale artisan producers she works with in Africa and to the many UK textile artists who have been inspired by their fabrics and textile traditions.
The exhibition features the creative work of several of Maggie’s customers – more friends, really, and their work is set out in the context of the fabrics themselves, with photographs and information panels about the fabrics, their makers and where they come from.
One significant contributor to the exhibition is Janice Gunner, a well-known textile artist, teacher and author. A past-president of The Quilters’ Guild, Janice has used Magie’s African fabrics extensively, especially in her African Odyssey series of quilts.
‘African Odyssey III’, which Janice has graciously loaned to the Quilt Museum for this celebratory exhibition, features Kola nut and Indigo, an increasingly rare type of hand-dyed fabric from The Gambia in West Africa.
Magie buys this fabric directly from the dyer who creates it, Musa Jaiteh, at his compound in the village of Sukuta. Magie’s relationship with Musa says a lot about how she feels about Africa, its textiles, and its people.
Under African Skies: Musa's Quilt by Magie Relph, UK. Reflecting the colour of a dark, moody African sky rumbling away, ready to release the rains and feed the parched earth. In Africa many people dream of rain. It brings with it the excitement of new life. I've nicknamed this piece ‘Musa's Quilt’ because all the fabrics in it were hand-dyed by my friend Musa in The Gambia. Wall hanging. Machine pieced and quilted. 140 x 95 cm
“Every time I visit Musa,” she says, “I learn a little bit more about his art and life in The Gambia. It’s a very rewarding experience and one of the reasons I am continually drawn back to Africa and Musa's fabrics.”
Liz Hewitt, a Bristol-based textile artist, has been inspired by another African textile tradition – hand-woven strip cloth from Mali in West Africa. When she first saw 60 metre rolls of this unique cloth on Magie’s stall, she didn’t know what she would do with it, but she had to have it.
Never content with the ordinary, Liz started experimenting with dyeing, stitching and embellishing techniques. As she worked from one seemingly mad idea to the next, a theme emerged, which eventually became “STRIP:joint”, a solo-exhibition at The Festival of Quilts 2009.
“Under African Skies” includes the centre piece from that exhibition – a compelling arrangement of dyed and embellished cotton strips called “Forest of Cloth”. Again, the work of the artist is supported by photographs and information panels about the textile Liz has used in her work.
Ashanti Tales: The Serpent by Magie Relph, UK. Reflecting the colour of a dark, moody African sky rumbling away, ready to release the rains. The serpent image was my inspiration and starting point. Often referred to in folk tales, serpents are an important part of Ashanti life. They are both respected and avoided! Wall hanging. Machine pieced and quilted. 105 x 82 cm.
Summing up the exhibition, Magie Relph says, “Some of these textiles represent traditions that stretch back centuries. Others, like the wax prints of Manchester, are important elements of Britain’s textile and industrial heritage, designing and manufacturing fabrics for export to what was then The Empire. With ‘Under African Skies’, I am celebrating the fabrics themselves, their heritage, and the many UK artists who are using them today to break new ground in textile art.”
For additional information, please contact Magie Relph 01484 850 188, or email magie@africanfabric.co.uk