Third International Photography Biennial in the National Art Gallery in Beijing, exhibition
"The Intangible Cultural Heritage"
I was asked by Diana Kingsbury of Chinese Photography Magazine to submit photographs of Ugandan Bark Cloth making for this exhibition on cultural heritages. I was very excited to share my images of a co-op of bark cloth makers from the Rakai District that I shot in 2008. As a disclaimer, I was unable to supply the names of the specific makers, unfortunately my notes were of no use.
Here is the translated text for those interested:
Barkcloth making is an ancient craft practiced by the Baganda people in southern Uganda. Craftsmen of the Ngonge clan, headed by a hereditary chief craftsman, traditionally made bark cloth for the Baganda royal family and the rest of the community, employing a prehistoric technique that predates the invention of weaving. The inner bark of the Mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis) is harvested during the wet season and, through a long and strenuous process, beaten with wooden mallets to a soft and fine texture of even terracotta colour. Craftsmen work in an open shed to protect the bark from drying out too quickly. Traditionally, barkcloth is used at coronation and healing ceremonies, funerals and cultural gatherings; it also served very functional purposes, including curtains, mosquito screens, bedding and storage. In recent decades, this cloth has been used by artists and designers in Uganda and abroad for high fashion, fine art, and inventively designed products.
All photos courtesy of Lesli Robertson
1.The bark cloth co-op, Bakomazi Agali Awamu Twesitule, of Mananma, Rakai District, Uganda, 2008
A co-op member stripping the bark from the mutuba tree. This process does not kill the tree, with proper care the bark can be harvested once a year for 30-35 years.
2.The bark cloth co-op, Bakomazi Agali Awamu Twesitule, of Mananma, Rakai District, Uganda, 2008
A co-op member using a grooved wooden mallet to pound the bark into cloth. This process takes from 2 - 4 hours and will result in the barkcloth reaching over 4 times it original width.
3.The bark cloth co-op, Bakomazi Agali Awamu Twesitule, of Mananma, Rakai District, Uganda, 2008
The co-op members discussing the cloth that was just finished. To complete the process, the barkcloth is stretched on the ground and held in place by large stones. The sun dries the cloth and enriches its natural rust color.
4.The bark cloth co-op, Bakomazi Agali Awamu Twesitule, of Mananma, Rakai District, Uganda, 2008
This finished piece of bark cloth is a beautiful example of the quality that can be achieved through the process. What began as bark is now a supple cloth.