Rich designs speak volumes

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Courtesy photo/UNT on the Square
“Cloth Talks” includes garments and textiles of West Africa, showing how patterns and symbols tell meaningful stories about the artists who create the cloth and the people who wear it. The exhibit is now on view at UNT on the Square.
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Textiles, songs from West Africa to fill art venue

Anyone who’s ever watched artists screen-printing designs onto shirts and paper might marvel at just how little of a difference there is in some West African textile techniques.

Denton fiber artist Elise Ridenour will introduce local art and fabric printing buffs to West African textiles today at UNT on the Square, at a reception for the exhibit “Cloth Talks.”

After the artist talks, international phenomenon and palm-wine musician Koo Nimo will perform songs from his homeland of Ghana. For anyone who might dismiss Nimo as another egghead music man invited to enrich egghead music students, well, look up his latest album, Highlife Roots Revival, on Spotify or Pandora. Nimo is as dynamic and magical as American folk icons.

As an exhibit, “Cloth Talks” is a rich and eloquent meditation of the indomitable creative impulse of West Africa. The textiles are equal parts simple and loquacious; big drapes of bright, heavy fabric bear traditional symbols that, taken together, can preach a sermon or tell a story about theman, woman or tribe who makes it.

There are deeper, darker pieces — the size of super-sized king bed comforters — embellished with dyes and inks that whisper their messages. And there are garments, a logical step that observes how art informs fashion, and how fashion comments on class and culture. Gallery visitors can study a wall full of hand-hewn stamps, wrought from chunky gourds and rendered into tools that hand an artistic legacy from one generation to the next.

Ridenour has spent years splitting her time between Denton and Africa, and “Cloth Talks” isn’t a mere syllabus of things the artist has learned. “Cloth Talks” is a sort of journal of the artist’s heart after discovering a different continent, a different people who share her drive to make fiber sing.

True to form for the University of North Texas Institute for the Advancement of the Arts, UNT on the Square accompanies the textiles with placards that explain how West African artists make the cloths. Plenty of video is available. Screen-printing fans might get entranced as an artist scrapes ink onto a framed screen and presses images onto cloth.

Ridenour discusses the exhibit at 7 p.m. today, with Nimo performing at 7:30 p.m. UNT on the Square is located at 109 N. Elm St.

— Lucinda Breeding

 


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