If you are in any way acquainted with the collections of noted Malian fashion designer, the late Chris Seydou, or pay attention to depictions of Africans and Afrocentric characters in American popular culture, then these unique designs and textiles, known more commonly as ‘mud cloth’, are probably an iconic aesthetic that you are familiar with.
Originating amongst the Bambara people of Mali whose name for this style of textile-making is Bògòlanfini, these handmade mud-dyed cotton fabrics have become a symbol of Malian cultural identity that is used in dressing, design and art. The process involved with the making of bògòlanfini textiles is an organic eco-friendly activity that uses all natural substances.
Traditionally the textile is made using narrow strips of cotton cloth woven on looms in the villages producing ca 15 cm wide cloth, which is then sewn together by hand to produce a fabric wide enough to make into clothing etc. This base fabric on which the designs will be painted is first dyed either a rich red from a dye obtained through boiling the bark of a special tree, or in fresh yellow tones obtained through soaking the dried and pounded leaves of another tree.
Once the fabric is dyed it is ready to receive the mud, often applied with the help of a toothbrush and painted free hand or using stencils. The mud comes from the river Niger, and through a fascinating process of oxidisation it reacts with the natural dyes , producing a rich black when it has dried and been washed off the fabric. This process is also traditionally done on the banks of the river Niger or its tributary the Bani where the fabric is spread out to dry in the sun.