Kangas: Public Art / Design

6 Oct

A kanga is a rectangular, cotton textile from East Africa.
It is often worn as a dress.

A typical kanga in East Africa consists of a wider border (Swahili: pindo), the central motif (Swahili: mji), and the writing (Swahili: ujumbe or jina).

“For a century, kangas were mostly designed and printed in India, the Far East and Europe. But since the 1950’s, more and more kangas have been designed and printed in Tanzania, Kenya, and other countries in [East] Africa.”

“Early this century, Swahili sayings were added to kangas.”
(Originally written in Arabic script, later in Roman letters, then in Swahili)
Many are obscure or ambiguous in their meaning.

“Kanga is all about sending the message. It is the equivalent of the get well, greetings, or congratulations cards in the western culture”
“Like the T-shirt, but incomparably more elegant and useful, it is a valuable medium for personal political, social and religious expression.”

“Kanga is an important tool for mobilizing people in East Africa. Kangas are often used in political rallies as a form of identity for people supporting a particular political party. Kanga has also been used to mobilize people in public health campaigns as well as creating awareness to particular development projects.”
“Whereas t-shirts apply equally well to men and women, kanga is something more appealing to women.”

(ALL OF THE ABOVE CAN BE FOUND AT: http://www.erieartmuseum.org/exhibits/exhibits2008/kanga/kanga.html)

Victoria Rowell at the Emmys, 2009
The cloth was made to commemorate President Obama’s visit to Ghana back in July. It was the first trip he made to Africa as President, and obviously, the first African-American President to visit Africa. The cloth says “Akwaaba”, which is Akan for “Welcome” and the golden symbols mean “Gye Nyame” (literally means, “no one but God can do it”) and the symbol of the stool, which is a political symbol of governance.


This is a kanga printed by the women project “Kali Mata Ki Ja” in Tanzania to teach women to bike!


The Peace Kanga Project is dedicated to supporting and promoting peace and unity in Kenya. Our mission is to distribute kangas with messages of peace to Kenyan women across the country.
The large figure in the center of the kanga is a West African symbol called “Bin Nka Bi” which means “Don’t bite each other”. It is a symbol of unity and democracy. The smaller repeated symbol around the border of the kanga is another West African symbol called “Siamese Crocodiles”. It represents 2 crocodiles that share a stomach but fight over food. It is a warning against tribalism and a call for cooperation and unity.




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