Skip the navigation
 

The Patterned World

Proportion

Blouse panel Zoomify

Taking objects from the real world and representing them on a textile involves making choices about proportions. On the flat picture plane of a two-dimensional textile surface, the maker chooses the size of the objects relative to each other, in order to convey valuable information about the message or story.

About the Object

Object name: Blouse panel (mola)
Place made: San Blas Islands, Panama
People: Kuna
Date made: 1960 – 1970
Dimensions: 38 x 42.5 cm
Materials & Techniques: Cotton, woven, reverse-appliquéd, appliquéd and embroidered
Credit line: Gift of D. James Newland from the collection of Sheilagh P. Ryan
ID: T2005.19.16

A masked wrestler named Villano Tercero, campeon mundial (world champion), dominates this blouse panel, or mola. This textile is a unique product of the Kuna people of the San Blas Islands, Panama. Kuna girls learn from an early age how to layer, cut and sew pieces of bright cotton cloth to make dense patterns.

Alternative Views

Back

Back

Oblique

Oblique

Note: clicking a thumbnail image will open a high-resolution version.

Second Look

Macro

Macro

Note: clicking a thumbnail image will open a high-resolution version.

Touchpoint View

Animation

You must enable javascript and have Flash Player 9 installed to view this content.

Note: clicking a link will load a movie into a media player.

Artifact Narrative

Horror Vacui

One particular type of proportion is known as horror vacui, or fear of empty space. The term describes the practice of filling space with image and pattern. On the wrestler mola, as with most others, the filler is a series of slashes made to reveal layers of coloured cotton. Horror vacui can produce a claustrophobic effect, where there seems to be little breathing room in the picture or pattern. This cloth from Borneo is an example of such visual claustrophobia; it reflects the tangled jungle of its birth and entices the viewer into a dense labyrinth of pattern.

Cloth

Cloth (pua kumbu)

Place made: Borneo
People: Iban
Date made: 1870-1900
Dimensions: 270 x 118 cm
Materials & Techniques: Cotton, thread-resist dyed and woven (warp faced)
Credits: From the Opekar / Webster Collection
ID: T94.0494

Audio Clip

The Kuna People

Listen to Max Allen talk about the Kuna people.

Credit: Audio Produced by TMC

You must enable javascript and have Flash Player 9 installed to view this content.

Related Image

The Kuna People

The Kuna People


Credit: Image Courtesy of Audrey Hozack

Note: clicking a thumbnail image will open a high-resolution version.

Transcript

The Kuna people, that’s spelled K-U-N-A, are an indigenous group of maybe fifty or sixty thousand people who live in Panama. They live in, actually, in a string of islands just off the coast of Panama in the Caribbean Sea. In the early part of the 20th century there was a big argument between the Kuna people and the Spanish run government of Panama about whether they were going to be absorbed into Panamanian society and be made to dress like everybody else, and go to church like everybody else, and go to school like everybody else. And the Kuna said, “No, we have our own culture and we’re going to keep it.” The American ambassador at the time, to Panama, was asked to intervene and to negotiate a settlement, which he did. And the settlement involved the Kuna nation being, essentially, independent. And they’re not unhappy about external influences, they’re interested in what the rest of the world is doing, but they have their own way of doing business and they want to keep it. On their mola blouses you see old Kuna imagery, but you also see reflections of the very modern outside world and this wrestler, the villain, the champion of the world here, is an example of that.

Artifact Narrative

Reverse Appliqué

A mola, which means “cloth” in the Kuna language, is always stitched by hand. Several layers of cotton broadcloth are tacked together and designs are drawn on the top layer. The cloth is then cut to reveal coloured layers beneath, and the edges are sewn to finish. The maker of a mola gradually cuts and sews creating a dimensional surface; in addition, pieces of appliquéd cloth and embellishments are added with embroidery. Front and back panels are sewn into a blouse. A cotton skirt, headscarf, arm bands and a nose ring complete the traditional outfit worn by Kuna women today, while the men have switched to Western attire.

Blouse

Blouse (mola)

Place made: San Blas Islands, Panama
People: Kuna
Date made: 1980
Dimensions: 48 x 70 cm
Materials & Techniques: Cotton, woven reverse-appliquéd, appliquéd and embroidered
Credits: Gift of Audrey Hozack
ID: T95.0210a

Collection Connections

Note: links will open in new browser windows.

Blouse panel

Blouse panel

ID*: T92.0077

Blouse panel

Blouse panel

ID*: T94.0985

Blouse panel

Blouse panel

ID*: T2005.19.15