Introduction to West Africa

This striking exhibit of West African textiles reminds us of the rich heritage of culture artistic and intellectual that West Africa has proffered to the world for so long. Behind these West African textile art forms is a rich and complex heritage of design and textile technology that has evolved and, in recent decades, influenced textile design and culture around the globe.

This complex textile heritage has been intertwined with the scholarship of the great Malian universities at Djenne and Timbuktu, which, with other scholarly centers in northwest Africa, were channels of enlightenment beginning in the 13th century for a Europe still mired in the Dark Ages. The emerging intellectual centers of Europe drew on the science, medicine, numeracy and mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy to create a new foundation of knowledge in the slowly developing universities in France, Italy, and later Britain. The warp of these textiles and the weft of the rich cultures of West Africa enrich us all.

David Wiley
Director, African Studies Center
Professor, Sociology
Michigan State University