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Makeba Rainey and Tijay Mohammed in Creative Conversation

October 12, 2017

2017 Create Change Fellow Makeba Rainey and Hunts Point/Longwood Artist-in-Residence Tijay Mohammed talk about African Wax Cloth and how they use the fabric in their artwork through this series of videos filmed outside at Kelly Street Garden.


Filming outdoors created many challenges such as background noise (airplanes flying overhead, birds chirping, the wind blowing, people chattering), allergies, bird poop, and Makeba speaking way too low. Instead of editing out the background noise, Makeba enhanced it with additional sound effects to acknowledge and embrace these “interruptions” as part of their creative conversation process.


Question 1: How/why do you use African wax cloth in your artwork?


Makeba’s Response:


Tijay’s Response:


Makeba’s Reponse (Part 2):

“I primarily use African wax in my portrait series “Africa, America.” For me, wax cloth symbolizes a connection to specific countries in West Africa. By layering these patterns over the clothing of important/influential historical and contemporary Black Americans I am making that connection more obvious. these figures are transformed from how we usually see them, into…the fabric adds to their stature and the invaluable roles they have played and/or continue to play in our history.



Prior to having these conversations with Tijay, I solely focused on color combinations rather than the traditional meaning s of the cloth. The motifs are meant to be provocative and allows others to ‘read’ the wearer and allows the wearer to ‘speak’ without actually talking. I appreciate the intention behind each design and have applied that to my new works, including a series of memorial textiles honoring the victims of police brutality and the criminal “justice” system.”

Mike Brown Funeral Fabric

Mike Brown Funeral Fabric



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Question 2 (for Tijay): What are the different meanings of the fabric and how is it traditionally used? How is it being misused in Ghana and internationally?


  • #1 Funerals



  • #2 Color & Motif



“For Black folk in America, self-determination is a part of the foundation for our liberation. When most people talk about self-determination they talk about starting and supporting Black-owned businesses. Often, the term ‘Buy Black’ is not extended to the continent. An easy way to support Black businesses in Africa is to buy your African Wax Cloth from Ghanaian companies. Vlisco is super popular, but is not an African company. Most of the lesser-quality fabrics are not block prints, but scans produced in China. I urge Black folks who want to wear African Wax or Kente to do their research and first learn the meanings and traditional uses for the fabrics they want to wear, and also support African companies. Black Liberation is global.”




  • #3 Responsibility



Question 3 (for Tijay): When and where do you wear African wax cloth?



Final Question: How To Throw Shade using African Wax Cloth: A Conversation.