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Published: 29 May 2021

By Andy Ross

Article of the Week - number sixty-two - a Zimbabwean batik

Using wax to make a resist for dyed fabrics is popular across Africa, and the production of printed cloth is big business. The technique is also used to make decorative items. 

In Zimbabwe there is a slightly different resist used. Instead of wax, sadza, a thick porridge made from corn meal, is pasted onto cotton sheet before the dye is applied. As the sadza dries it cracks and dye runs into the cracks to make the familiar crackle pattern on the cloth.

While some pieces use traditional motifs such as stripes or zigzags, others use people or animals as their subjects. In this small picture two women are depicted helping each other to balance pots of water on their heads. the simple composition of figures and unadorned tree lend themselves well to some sophisticated techniques of dyeing and painting, the former creating an interesting background for the action in the foreground. The influence of art movements from the earlier part of the 20th Century that created the Cyrene style with its distinctive black outlined subjects can clearly be seen. This piece dates from the turn of the 20th Century/ late 1990s.

The wax resist technique is very versatile. Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera uses it to create beautiful printed artworks as can be seen here. To learn more about how to make your own wax resist fabrics here is a short introduction