The Curious Case of the CICAM Cloth

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Goldsmiths Textile Collection (part of Special Collections & Archives) houses an array of eye catching & intriguing fabric based objects. From embroideries to cultural significant fashion garments, many of these items have been collected over time with the intention of inspiring creative and academic imaginations from a variety of disciplines. As this blog post will attempt to explore, many of the objects housed within the Textile Collection have a rich cultural and social history that extends far beyond the first impression.

A problem that many academic researchers will no doubt be familiar with is attempting to analyse the authentic story at the heart of a matter. Many an academic have scratched their heads upon finding that deeper inspection of a subject sometimes ends up complicating the matter at hand rather than resolving it. This sort of quandary is an everyday occurrence during research, and the objects based in the Textile Collection are no less exempt from such issues around history and identity. Such is the case for the subject of this blog post, a highly colourful waxed cotton print from Cameroon. This particular object gets quite significant amount of attention here in the Textile Collection, thanks in no small part to an attractive and somewhat psychedelic colour scheme, with a fiery orange hue that evokes vivid sensations of warmer climates south of the equator. Amongst the blazing backdrop is a highly presidential looking figure with the text ‘Republique Unie Du Cameroon/United Republic of Cameroon’, ‘JCNU’ and ‘YCNU’ sitting below it. A small insignia of ‘CICAM’ along the borders of the cloth gives some indication as to who the manufacturers might have been, or perhaps the organisation who might have commissioned production of the cloth.

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As far as actual historical detail goes, this is where things get a bit more puzzling for the enigmatic wax cloth. As is sometimes the case with objects donated to archives, we don’t actually have much knowledge of the object’s provenance beyond that. So visual information of the cloth is all we initially have to go on. Crucially, we didn’t know who the presidential figure might be, the year the cloth was made or what it was specifically commemorating. The amount of gaps in the cloth’s story leaves the exact intention somewhat ambiguous, so equal measures of luck, intuition and detective work would be needed in order to ascertain more. Luckily, there is a lot of information on the cloth that can be garnered with the naked eye, and so this was as good a place as any from which to proceed.

Firstly we could arguably identify the cloth as being from Cameroon, as it bears the commemorative text of United Republic of Cameroon – the functioning government for the nation since 1972. Researching the cloth’s manufacturer, CICAM (Cotonnière industrielle du Cameroun), reveals it to be Cameroon’s national textiles company. This confirms both the origin and stately significance of it as an historical object. The cloth is likely commemorative in nature, as it seems to be celebrating both a public figure and an institution from Cameroon. These particular details seemed like a worthwhile place from which to proceed an investigation.

An internet search of ‘Cameroon commemorative cloth’ reveals that cloth making is a popular activity across the sub-Saharan continent, and has a particularly strong following in Cameroon. According to Tommy Miles from tomathon.com, they are referred to interchangeably as Wax Prints, Pagnes or Batiks. As he explains:

I’m using the French term ‘Pagne‘ as sometimes they are called “Pagnes commeratifs”. Coming from Portuguese, pagne really describes the cut of cloth not the patterns or content. It has come to be one of several terms used to denote these brightly colored, intricately designed, and socially significant cotton fabrics produced and worldwide, and especially throughout tropical Africa. In West Africa, these tend to be “Fancy” (i.e. cheaper, one sided) mass produced “roller” prints on cotton. Also known as Wax prints (like the more expensive double sided Waxes, by companies like Vlisco), and occasionally as “Batiks” (which they are not), the names come from the production process. Batiks use hand painted wax to mask off areas from dye. Most roller prints use resins to achieve this effect, but retain the vein like “crinkles” characteristic of hand printed fabrics with wax fixer, a technique also known as starch resist or wax resist. Machine made, they feature repeating patterns rolled onto a long cotton cloth, usually 46 or 47 inches wide. The forms and design traditions are ubiquitous in West Africa. The slightly different “khanga” form of similar cotton fabrics is popular in East Africa and points south.

Tom’s description is useful in providing us with important information for our investigation. He provides detail into the elaborate creative processes that go into producing a commemorative cloth, as well as describing their cultural importance for establishing historical events.

Returning to the visual details of the cloth, it seemed necessary to examine other details so as to get further indications about whom the presidential figure previously described might be. The text of ‘JCNU’ and ‘YCNU’ seems to be politically significant to the design of the cloth. Searching through library catalogues, Churchill Ewumbue-Monono’s Youth and Nation-building in Cameroon (2009) holds some answers as to what these acronyms might represent. JCNU and YCNU interchangeably to refer to the youth wing of Cameroon’s National Union (CNU). The youth party was set up by the CNU’s first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo in 1966, so it’s possible he may be the figure depicted on the cloth.

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Former & Current Presidents of Cameroon Ahmadou Ahidjo & Paul Biya

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However, the image isn’t a clear match for the one on the cloth so we couldn’t be positive. Furthermore, the cloth seems relatively modern and colourful in comparison to others from Ahidjo’s presidency. However, his successor Paul Biya, could also possibly be the figure in the wax cloth (albeit without the ubiquitous moustache). Biya took the presidency of Cameroon under somewhat controversial circumstances and remains in control to present day. Despite being involved in various scandals throughout his presidency, Biya has expressed a commitment to the JCNU/YCNU. In 1984 Biya began the roll out of a brand new youth policy for Cameroon. This included a New Deal agreement geared towards getting the youth of Cameroon into employment. It’s highly possible that the cloth was manufactured around this period to commemorate Biya’s new hopes for the youth of Cameroon.

Unfortunately, this is as far the investigation into the wax cloth has been able to get. We are unable to provide an exact photo match with the image on the wax cloth, making identification and provenance problematic once more. On the other hand, a high volume amount of information has been pieced together using some highly disparate sources. This information has led to the accumulation of knowledge about a moment in Cameroon’s national history. By getting us to explore further into this particular moment in time, the CICAM wax cloth is very successful in its function as a commemorative object. It demonstrates that the process of research can be a highly enlightening experience in lots of unexpected ways, and that objects of inquiry can be transformative in their effect on reseachers.

If anyone has any more precise information on the Cameroon Commemorative Cloth then we would be very excited to hear from you, so we can add more to the origin story of this unique object. Alternatively you wanted to view the wax cloth or any of our other wide variety of items in person, then contact the Textile Collection at textiles@gold.ac.uk for more details. Opening times are Tuesday – Thursday, 11 – 5.00 pm.

By Jack Mulvaney

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From the Archive: TX magazine and pirate radio

Currently showing at the ICA, Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s (26th May – 19th July 2015) is a visual exploration of the tower block pirate radio movement that radically transformed British popular music culture and listening habits in the 1980’s. Shout Out! documents the emergent and progressive unlicensed broadcast scene through the considered usage of archival material and ephemera from the period. The timely adaptation and re-purposing of authentic content enables the audience to engross themselves in the excitement and creativity of the new wave of UK pirate radio.

Pirate radio is re-emerging as an artisitc interest due to a legacy of cultural activism during the politically turbulent years of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. At the time, the BBC and other licensed commercial stations were offering limited access for voices within marginalised communities and alternative forms of popular music. Often broadcasting with makeshift antennas from the roofs of residential tower blocks, pirate radio circumvented traditional restrictions on breaking innovative new sounds to potential audiences. The now practically institutionalised Kiss 94.5 FM was among other stations such as Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), Alice’s Restaurant, Radio Invicta and London Weekend Radio (LWR) making a noise in the first wave of UK pirate radio stations. Whereas the previous incarnations of pirate radio tended to broadcast from offshore locations such as ships and rigs, this new generation defined itself by commandeering the rooftops of inner city tower block buildings for broadcast. With the now ubiquitous rallying cry of ‘lock down your aerial’, these stations were critical in allowing exposure for black and alternative music, blazing a trail for the explosion of rave, jungle, garage and house that followed shortly thereafter.

No cultural scene is complete without public spaces to distribute information and frame discussion. As music releases proper had the NME and Melody Maker to get word out about new independent releases, so pirate radio enthusiasts found imaginative ways in which to reach audiences. TX, a magazine dedicated to offering insider information on the pirate radio scene, was one such publication whose ascendancy and eventual prohibition very much mirrored that of the subject matter it reported upon. TX began life as the project of Stephen Hebditch, who became interested in the pirate radio scene after leaving university. TX‘s first run was as a free fanzine. Its popularity would steadily grow until Hebditch was able to get limited copies in some London based record shops and newsagents. TX ran for 18 issues before the time constraints of returning to university forced Hebditch to withdraw from print publication and move towards a telephone hotline format, where he and other enthusiasts were able to continue getting the most up to date insider information about pirate radio out to an eager public. Hebditch’s own website AM/FM chronicles the history of TX and offers an online version of its published output.

Here at Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections and Archives, we are lucky enough to hold three physical print issues of TX. These are housed within the Terence Kelly collection. Terence Kelly was a broadcast specialist reporter for the UK Press Gazette – Britain’s trade magazine for journalists. He amassed a unique collection of cuttings, papers and reports during research and writing of his weekly articles. As someone covering the inside detail of the radio broadcast world, it is understandable why TX would be of interest to Kelly.

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Leafing through TX reveals a goldmine of insider information about running a pirate radio station. The layout was composed on Hebditch’s own Sinclair Spectrum with a rough and ready 8-bit aesthetic. The DIY feel of TX absorbs readers into an alternative version of 1980’s subculture as it reports breaking news and new trends in the pirate way radio community. All the issues held with Special Collections and Archives date from 1986 and vividly illustrate the fast paced lifestyle and sense of camaraderie that underpinned pirate radio at the time.

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TX offered listings of pirate radio broadcasts, useful for finding out when a young Tim Westwood would have been broadcasting on LWR.

As well as monthly briefs on individual stations activity, there is also plenty of logistical advice on how to best place a broadcasting UHF aerial and the cheapest and most mobile equipment to use in case of a police raid. Included in the August issue is an interview with an anonymous activist group in the process of a plot to jam the signal of Capital radio and other commercially licensed radio stations, intended as a dadaist inversion of the governments own attempts at the time to block broadcast signals. Amongst all this are a liberal amount of swipes at the DTI (Department of Trade & Industry), the government organisation aimed at bringing down pirate radio stations in what must have felt like a perennial game of cat and mouse to all parties involved.

As the guerrilla aesthetic of TX elicits, the history of pirate radio has been one of sourcing new modes of transmission met with swift responses of censure. The Telecommunications Act of 1984 allowed the Radio Investigation Service powers to enter properties without a license and detain equipment suspected of being used in illegal broadcasts. Ironically, this only served to inspire broadcasters to adapt and develop alternative strategies to outmaneuver the authorities. The glamorous peril of pirate radio and move towards more easily mobile equipment ended up adversely increasing the number of pirate radio stations and heralded a new wave of stations with over 600 stations nationwide by 1989, with 60 in the London area alone.Scan209

The implementation of the Broadcasting Act of 1990 sounded the death knell of the TX era of pirate radio by prohibiting advertising and offering the more popular stations the opportunity to obtain legal broadcasting licenses. The excitement of the period can be revisited through the Shout Out! exhibition and TX magazines held in Special Collections and Archives. The Kelly collection of which TX is a part of contains further official radio industry documentation and applications by some of the radio stations that would go on to become legitimate broadcasters, such as the now pervasive Kiss FM.

Stephen Hebditch recently published a personal account of UK pirate radio in the 1980’s London’s Pirate Pioneers: The illegal broadcasters who changed British radio (2015), and is highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the subject.

To learn more and arrange possible viewings of the TX magazines and other items from the Kelly Collection, visit us in Goldsmiths Library, email us here, or alternatively call on +44(0)20 7717 2295.

Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s is currently on at the ICA in London till 19th July and tours to the Phoenix in Leicester, 23 July – 24 August 2015.

By Jack Mulvaney

On a (m)other’s watch

On a (m)other’s watch

Symposium opening exhibition by Eti Wade curated by Samantha Lippett (MFA Curating), Saturday 11th April 2015

image.php‘on a (m)other’s watch’ is a collaboration between curator Samantha Lippett and mother artist Eti Wade, supported by the Women’s Art Library. The project comprises two public ‘interventions’ within the Goldsmiths campus of previously unseen works by Eti Wade entitled Joscasta and 57 Baths. The project is supported through an accompanying symposium which will provide an international overview of mother artists work.

Symposium 10-5pm
Opening reception 5-6pm

Women of Goldsmiths: Evelyn Gibbs

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections & Archives has been taking time to reflect on positive female characters in Goldsmiths institutional history. A previous post looked at Caroline Graveson, the first in the prestigious post of Women’s Vice-Principal of the Goldsmiths Training Department.

Following in the stead of Graveson and the gains she made for women in the academic institution, Evelyn Gibbs provided a resolute influence for the teacher training department of Goldsmiths College during the difficult period of the Second World War.

Gibbs undertook the study at the City of Art School in her hometown of Liverpool in 1922 before being awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London alongside other notables of the period such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. It was during her time at the RCA whereupon Gibbs would develop an interest in the craft of engraving.

Gibbs early work was heavily based on the art of carving images into wood, and this is perhaps what first beckoned her to Goldsmiths College, which by then was drawing the attention of the art world for the so called ‘Goldsmiths School’ of engravers, including the future principal Paul Drury. Her adeptness in the fine craft of engraving would lead her to winning the prestigious Prix de Rome Scholarship in 1929, complete with a scholarship which she would put to use in two years of further study of art in Italy.  Her first steps towards academia came after returning to London in 1931 and turning to teaching at a school for handicapped children as a means to support herself. It was this experience that would lead her to write a book on art teaching for children, and featured illustrations by her pupils. The Teaching of Art in Schools (1934) was well received and showcased Gibb’s flair for shaping the learning experience.

Evelyn Gibbs. Image courtesy of Goldsmiths Library Special Collections & Archives.

Evelyn Gibbs.

After demonstrating a natural instinct for teaching others as well as high degrees of artistic talent, Gibbs found herself in demand and Goldsmiths College came calling in 1934. She officially became a teacher-training lecturer at Goldsmiths College. Gibbs settled into Goldsmiths well, and was able to sustain her art practice alongside teaching, and she would make a welcome return to painting. Goldsmiths Art Collection is pleased to hold several artworks by Gibbs, with Spanish Fisherwoman being a prime example of the poignant sophistication she had achieved by then.

Spanish Fisherwoman. Image courtesy of BBC Your Paintings.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gibbs would follow Goldsmiths College when it was evacuated to the safer landscapes of Nottingham. Not one to be perturbed and disheartened by troublesome things occurring in the world at the time, she found the drive to help found the Midlands Group of Artists in 1943, a collective dedicated to fostering the development of experimental artists in the region. The Midlands Group would be instrumental in the assisting several notable artists, including David Hockney and Bridget Riley, a Goldsmiths alumni and influential woman artist in her own right.

Evelyn Gibbs sadly passed in 1991, though Goldsmiths College is pleased to be able to honour her memory and gains she made for women in both teaching and the art world. We hold several pieces of Evelyn Gibb’s artwork in Goldsmiths Art Collection, including Spanish Fisherwoman, in various locales around the college. The teaching of art in schools is available for loan and viewing in Goldsmiths Library. Here in Special Collections & Archives we hold much material related to Gibbs in the Womens Art Library, including slide files and Pauline Lucas’s Evelyn Gibbs : artist and traveller (2001), a detailed survey of Gibbs’ life and work. Please contact us here or alternatively call on +44(0)20 7717 2295 for more details.

Women of Goldsmiths: Caroline Graveson

Across libraries, archives and other institutions worldwide, the entire month of March is dedicated to celebrating the contribution of women worldwide to culture, society and politics through Women’s History Month. Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections & Archives is very pleased to be able to participate and celebrate the institutional history of women who have strived to make Goldsmiths College the vibrant and progressive education establishment it is today. In the first of a series of profiles, we look at some of the women who have helped in shaped the history of Goldsmiths College in profoundly positive ways. In 1905, Caroline Graveson, previously working as Mistress of Method and Tutor of Education in the Day Training College at the University of Liverpool, was appointed as one of the Vice-Principals of the Goldsmiths College Training Department. Together with the first Warden, William Loring, and the other Vice-Principal, Thomas Raymont, Miss Graveson was hugely influential in the establishment of a new, co-educational, undenominational and non-resident Training College within the University of London and its constituents.

Caroline Graveson

Caroline Graveson. Image courtesy of Goldsmiths, University of London.

During her tenure with Goldsmiths, she proved to be a very positive influence on all her students, but particularly for women whom were enrolling in a period where female studentship was a relatively new experience. In the Old Students’ Association Yearbook for 1935 it was noted that ‘her gracious personality, her impelling influence and her complete devotion to the College will be an abiding memory to us all and particularly to the women students (nearly 5,000 of them) who have known her as their Vice-Principal’. After spending nearly 30 years working with Goldmiths, Graveson would retire from the position to pursue writing and altruistic activities in the service of her Quaker religion. Her retirement was short-lived however, and within the year she returned to education and further success when she succeeded the Warden as President of the Training College Association. At a time when Women struggled to achieve the same equality as men, Caroline Graveson is a positive character who was able to graciously overcome adversity whilst paving the way for women to follow after. Please contact Special Collections and Archives for more information on Caroline Graveson and many of the other women who have contributed to the rich tapestry of Goldsmiths College’s progressive history.

Anne Krinsky

Krinsky

From Absorb to Zoom: An Alphabet of Actions in the Women’s Art Library is a site-specific collaborative print installation created by Anne Krinsky (supported by Arts Council England) that is on display in the Special Collections Study Space and the cabinets in the Kingsway Corridor. These are largescale digital prints, a first for Anne who is a traditional printmaker. She was inspired by archived slides, artists’ books, magazines, monographs and posters she found in the Women’s Art Library Collection.

In conjunction with her research Anne set up a blog featuring recent works by artists with documentation in the Women’s Art Library to virtually update the archive. www.annekrinskyfromabsorbtozoom.blogspot.co.uk

The show is up from 2-30 March 2015. There is an exhibition pamphlet featuring two commissioned essays and a design A4 poster featuring the Alphabet of Actions.

‘Stop Short-Changing Us’: The BANK exhibition file

In previous blog posts documenting the activity of Goldsmiths Library’s Special Collections and Archives department, we’ve taken a closer look at the Surrey Docks Studios and the innovative Daphne Oram archive both featuring in our archival holdings. It is a testament to depth of our collection that we are able to contrast the above collections with other vivid acquisitions such as the BANK exhibition file. This particular archive is a myriad of interesting material pertaining to the activity of the infamous BANK art collective, covering the period from 1991 through to 2003. The BANK exhibition file is a compelling assemblage that charts the organisations dissident journey through the boom of the 1990’s London art scene, and sure to be of interest to those interested in the excitement and controversy of the period.

BANK began life in very much the irreverent spirit it would continue in, with founding members Simon Bedwell and John Russell posting fabricated descriptions of fake art show openings in a humorous yet salient critique of what they perceived to be a vapid and commercially orientated art culture prevailing in London at the time. They would take the first steps on the road to notoriety in 1991 and hold their first show proper. The eponymous BANK emerged within the shadow of Goldsmiths College, as the collective appropriated an old disused bank on Lewisham Way, a landmark of the surrounding area that many former and current students will no doubt be aware of.

Old bank on Lewisham Way. Photograph courtesy of Geograph.

After initial shows were received with great interest and excitement, BANK would move its base to Shoreditch in the mid-90’s, commandeering disused spaces on Curtain Road and Underwood Street. In keeping with BANK’s precocious and anarchic spirit, this was to be some years before gentrification transformed the East London area from industrial dereliction into a fashionable cosmopolitan district. As the 2003 BANK retrospective notes, with some due resentment towards the sweeping changes that occurred:

At the time the area was a dump, deserted at weekends when even the pubs shut; but you could see where it was going. The return of the 80s aspect became the basis for [1994 show] Wish You Were Here; the property market was still in recession but London had a surplus of designer yuppies and boho trustafarians, and Curtain Road is on the edge of the financial district.

The DOG and Galerie Poo Poo spaces were both based in disused industrial spaces on Curtain Road and Underwood Street respectively, where some of Shoreditch’s’ busiest bars, numerable loft apartments and a Jamie Oliver’s restaurant now reside. A perusal of the list of BANK curated shows during this period is practically a directory of the most influential artists working today. Bob and Roberta Smith, Martin Creed, Peter Doig, Gavin Turk, 0rphan.drift>, Chris Ofili, John Cussans and Adam Chodzko are just a sample of the notable names that appeared in BANK shows during their ascensions in the art world.

Over the decade, BANK would continue to grow as a collective, with a revolving roster of members that included Dino Demosthenous, David Burrows, Andrew Williamson and the current Goldsmiths MFA lecturer, Milly Thompson. The most compelling feature of the BANK collective was how their objectives and work BANK stood in such strong contradiction to the upwardly mobile trajectory of Young British Artists (aka The YBA’s) also existing around the same period. Though the Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin’s (who participated in the spontaneous Viper/BANK TV project with 130 other artists) of the YBA’s were highly successful in bringing British art back into the spotlight, they would shifts the emphasis of art production towards greater financial imperatives. The rise of this money orientated culture was a trend that the BANK collective would consistently take aim at with their unique form of avant-garde satire.

As well as putting on shows featuring other artists’ work, BANK also achieved notoriety for their own creative output as they balanced their roles somewhere between that of artist and radical curator. A reoccurring convention between the various members was to exchange the dreary press releases for art shows of the day with various sections annotated and critiqued for satire and personal amusement.

What began life as a personal joke between members would eventually culminate in a fully fledged exhibition in its own right. The appropriately titled PRESS RELEASE debuted in early 1999, showing off some of these press releases in an act of mischievous situationist inversion of normal exhibition opening rhetoric. Citing Jacqes Derrida as an influence, BANK deconstructed the banality of the corporate art world press release in a critique of an art world practice they saw as prohibitive to creativity and understanding. The press release for PRESS RELEASE does not steer clear of inflammatory rhetoric when it declares:

PRESS RELEASE may seem to be a flippant, ‘good natured’ joke, but the amusing aspects to the project are merely irrelevant side-effects to what is a serious investigation into the sinister implications of this particular linguistic manifestation…Consequently: ‘This show deals with identity and gender could mean, “I want the person who is writing this to be successful. I want you to like them. I want you to provide them with a flat in the Barbican.”

PRESS RELEASE. Image courtesy of john-russell.org.

Another example of BANK’s abrasive irreverence towards the prevailing mainstream art culture was their White3 show, an overt tongue in cheek reference to the emerging White Cube gallery that hosted many of the YBA’s during their ascension. BANK saw White Cube’s blank and vacant adaptation of minimal monochrome aesthetics as anathema to what they envisaged a vibrant and engaging curatorial space to be. White3 inverted the now ubiquitous display of artworks upon brilliant white gallery walls by creating an actual white cube in the centre of the space and installing an array of  ‘spectacles’ around it that included copies of Beowulf and images of popular figures like the Queen, in a sly nod to Guy Debord’s Society of the Specatacle.

An array of ephemera and material pertaining to PRESS RELEASE and other BANK output can be found here in Special Collections & Archives. Kindly donated by founding member Simon Bedwell in 2006, content includes a self-titled book that includes interviews with the various members and detail information about exhibitions including images, alongside many of the notorious press releases including Zombie Golf, White3 and PRESS RELEASE. A listing of the BANK exhibition file contents can be found here. Get in touch with us at special.collections@gold.ac.uk or alternatively call on +44(0)20 7717 2295 to find out more or arrange collection viewings.