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Published: 18 August 2018

By Andy Ross

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Shetland Textile Museum talk

This week, I have been asked to give a talk on the fabrics in the collection at the Shetland Textile Museum in Lerwick. 

Entitled (by me) Pieces from an Eccentric Collector, the talk (Wednesday 22nd at 6:30pm in the Textile Museum)  will be about some of the interesting pieces that we have found on our travels, both real and virtual, and, while researching the pieces, I have uncovered some fascinating history. 

About twenty five or so years ago, we put into the collection a piece of fabric (pictured on this page) which is handsomely emblazoned with a Nigerian mask surrounded by the words "2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture". The piece has always intrigued me because it is such a grandiose title and so absolutely African, and yet an event about which I knew nothing, so I spent the last few days researching and have uncovered a fascinating story. 

In 1966, an international event, bringing together black and African artists from all disciplines and from across the world, was held in Dakar. This was the first event of its kind and famous names such as Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington and Nelson Mandela were associated with the festival. You can see a video of some of the events and speeches online here with Italian narration, and if you would like further reading, you could look up these publications. 

The second of the events was planned for 1970 but civil war and unrest in Nigeria, the host country, led to the postponement of the celebrations until 1977. This time around the event was much bigger - representatives from 48 countries and cultural artefacts representing 59 countries and communities were present, and the festival led directly to the creation of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization as well as the creation of housing and theatres in Nigeria. In fact, the housing village, Festac Town, called after the Festival itself, still exists and you can read about it on this Wikipedia page.  (Note: Wikipedia is not an authoritative source but is useful for background information!) You can see a film about the second festival, Festac '77, below.

Of course, not everyone thinks the festival was a success but the idea of bringing people together through art and culture has never died. The latest incarnation of the concept was in 2010, once again in Dakar. 

The more research I do on this small piece of cloth, the more interesting it becomes. Stories and histories come to life, and whole new avenues of exploration open up. Those hidden messages, sometimes hidden in plain sight, are there to be explored and uncovered by anyone with a curious mind. Long live textile collecting!