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Joanne Pilcher

MA work

The Contemporary Production of Wax-Textiles in London: Making African-British Identities

In the last ten years (2005-2015), London has seen a boom in individuals and communities making products out of wax-textiles in order to sell them at markets. In 2011, Open theGate started a monthly market at Old Spitalfields Market, which culminated in the event ‘Africa on the Square’ on 11 October 2014 in conjunction with Black History Month. It is very apparent at all these events just how many people, within London, are designing and making products out of wax-textiles.

While the history of the fabrics is somewhat convoluted, they have been associated with Africa throughout and are in fact often referred to as ‘African print.’ This dissertation draws from a series of nine interviews with people who use wax-textiles to produce merchandise for selling at various African markets. Their choice to use a fabric with strong African connotations, and for retailing at an African market, is investigated through reflection on how they relate their own identity to their practice as a maker. Consideration has been given to the way the interviewees form a symbiotic relationship with the textiles, allowing the material to shape their work, as much as they simultaneously change the form of the cloth itself. Finally, the importance of the selling experience, plus the understanding and wearing of wax-textiles, is explored through activities such as visiting the marketplace, use of social media sites and the act of head wrapping. This study finds that, while some may misuse the agency of wax-textiles, their interesting and complicated ‘past and present’ provides a useful tool as to how the participants acknowledge their own African-British identities.


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2015

  • Degrees

  • BA Fine Art, University of Leeds, 2013
  • Experience

  • Volunteer, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014–15; Internship, Gainsborough Silk Weaving, Sudbury, 2014; Internship, Artliner, Farnborough, 2014; Internship, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, 2013; Internship, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2012; Volunteer, Falmouth Art Gallery, Falmouth, 2009–12