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AND THE BEAT GOES ON… Barkcloth from the Collections of the Weltkulturen Museum

The designs of cloth, garments and masks manufactured from beaten tree bark are usually based on abstract patterns and geometric structures. Although often associated with the Pacific Islands, the production of barkcloth textiles from beaten tree bark represents a major craft tradition across the world.
For the first time, the Weltkulturen Museum is not only presenting examples of this fascinating technique from Oceania, but also from Indonesia, Central Africa and the Amazon region. The objects illustrate the traditional and contemporary significance of barkcloth in everyday life, ritual and art.

The title of the exhibition is a reference to the rhythmic sound of the beaters as they process the fibrous inner bark. When the soaked inner bark, taken from particular trees, is beaten, the fibres are gradually softened, spread and felted producing a large surface of material. In many regions of the world, making barkcloth is a communal activity also accompanied by singing. In that sense, quite apart from barkcloth’s presence in the clothes worn, it was also an ‘audible’ element in everyday life.

Since barkcloth production is complicated and involves considerable work, it was at times almost entirely supplanted by imported woven materials. Over the last years, though, barkcloth production has experienced a strong revival. Apart from its use in souvenirs for tourists, it is a popular and prized material for the works of indigenous designers and artists. At the same time, traditional patterns are now being located in new contexts. This material from trees has also become fashionable again in traditional customs, developing in particular into a symbol of indigenous identity. 

AND THE BEAT GOES ON… as a spin-off to the COMMON THREAD is taking a fresh look at barkcloth materials. About 60 objects illustrate that barkcloth is a multifaceted and vibrant contemporary art form rather than just a curious legacy of non-European cultures.

Curators: Matthias Claudius Hofmann and Vanessa von Gliszczynski