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Meanings of the colors in Kente cloth

Women kente designs and dresses.

Kente cloth, a silk and cotton fabric of bright colors and bold patterns, is prized by the Akan kings of Ghana, who wear it only on special occasions. Kente cloth is woven in strips, which are then stitched together to make ceremonial robes. Joining strips of material together is the signature technique used by the West African artist El Anatsui (1944-  ) to make his hanging sculptures, such as Old Cloth Series (cover). The components of Old Cloth Series are strips of wood that have been incised with grids, distressed with a chain saw, burned with an acetylene torch, sanded to remove the surface scorching, and then marked with symbols cut and painted into the squares of the grid. In a final step, the wooden strips are aligned so they resemble the folds of a weathered bolt of cloth. The art of El Anatsui is a contemporary take on the traditional forms of African art, and the grids, weathering, symbols, and burning of the sculpture offer a perspective on the role of western Africa in international trade.

  • black—maturation, intensified spiritual energy
  • blue—peacefulness, harmony and love
  • green—vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal
  • gold—royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity
  • grey—healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash
  • maroon—the color of mother earth; associated with healing
  • pink—assoc. with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red
  • purple—assoc. with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women
  • red—political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death.
  • silver—serenity, purity, joy; assoc. with the moon
  • white—purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions
  • yellow—preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility

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