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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2010 4:24 pm 
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Location: Formerly Taipei -Taiwan, now Shanghai - China
I had this piece of textile for more than 10 years. In fact, it is a patchwork of 15 panels that the Kuna women use to wear by pair, one in the front and one in the back. Any comments on this piece are welcome.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 24, 2010 7:44 pm 
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I am always attracted to these reverse applique bodice pieces (molas) from the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands (Panama). You have a vary nice 'sampler' of styles.

Unfortunately I have never visited the San Blas islands but I did visit Panama in the mid 1970s and bought four or five molas. They were attractively displayed in several of the banks (I was then employed by a Panamanian subsidiary (based in the Cayman Islands) of Banque Nationale de Paris). When I returned to England I eventually managed to have a couple of mine similarly framed. I will post a picture of my very favourite - a dancing octopus.

In the early 1990s, when I was living in London, I went to a workshop at the British Museum to learn how to make molas. The BM were being visited by some Kuna Indians who had brought with them several of their 'modern' molas and they taught us in the workshop. It was very interesting to see how very much more 'busy' and complicated the mola designs had become on the more modern pieces. I also found it interesting to learn how the popularity of the molas for sale as a cash commodity had changed the balance of influence within the Kuna community. It was now the women who were the main breadwinners from the sale of their molas. If I can I will post a photo of a mola of that period. Unfortunately I am not sure at the moment where they are located. I have moved home three times since then and this time the mola(s) are not framed but folded up somewhere! Oh dear!

Actually constructing one of the molas was an interesting learning exercise and quite fun to do. Rather than building up layers on top of a background as 'normal' applique, the mola technique involves cutting away the top fabric (and folding under the raw edges) and revealing layers of different coloured fabrics beneath. I must have taken photos of the BM workshop but, again, I am not sure where they are now and it was certainly before I had a digital camera.


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File comment: mola by Kuna indians of San Blas Ilands, Panama purchased in about 1974
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File comment: mola by Kuna indians of San Blas Ilands, Panama purchased in about 1974
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File comment: detail of mola by Kuna indians of San Blas Ilands, Panama purchased in about 1974
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 9:57 am 
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Location: Formerly Taipei -Taiwan, now Shanghai - China
Pamela, I love your 'working octopus'. Did you notice that it is handling tools ?
it is always practical to have a plumber at home !
I really love it !
So naive and so evocative at the same time ! A very expressive work.
How many layers of fabrics ? I have counted up to 5, but I may be wrong.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:50 am 
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Pamela, I think I found precisely what is the 'fork' that your octopus is handling in one of its arms : it's a metal tong used by the Kuna to take things from the fire.
See the picture here after taken from an excellent book 'Magnificent Molas, the art of the Kuna Indians' from Michel Perrin. I also joined here a picture of the book cover.
In the same book, I also found some other pictures of molas displaying tools : on page 183, we can see molas displaying jug with handles, coconut pliers, saws, a sofa or a bench, paint brushes, boats, plank in bow of canoe, chain saw, flute player headdress.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 12:05 pm 
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Hi Nicolas

Very many thanks for your research and info on the book.

Yes, I had realised that my octopus was a very busy working octoped with his tools. Very interesting that there are other molas also showing tools.

By the way re layers. Although there are layers which are cut through, the thrifty needlewoman does not waste material by having complete layer upon layer but cuts pieces roughly to the size of the areas that she wants to show this colour and places them under the top layer(s). Looking closely at my octopus I see that there is use of both applique - building up layers (two on top of the red top layer) - and also reverse applique - cutting through this layer down to a couple of layers. The black of the octopus itself is applied on top of the yellow and orange fabrics which are lying under the red. All very clever to maximise colours, minimise fabric use and to give a 3D rather than flat feel to the image.

The resulting image is also rather like a poster with the bright simplified graphics and quite modern.

Fascinating looking at your sampler. I think that the individual mola pieces have been made by several different women as the designs are so different. Some of them are rather like the boredom doodles that I used to make on my papers during long university committee meetings - but how glorious!

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