Molas De Panama

Central America is colorful by nature and encouraged by nature.

I traveled to Costa Rica in 2008 and was greatly motivated by the wonderful colors, fresh fruits, beaches and primary growth jungle which smelt of ancient divinity.

My parents were in Panama and sent us this post card which was the inspiration for this segment of ‘Farts and Crafts’.

Molas are traditionally made by women of the Kuma; an indigenous people of Panama and Colombia.

From the writings of Dr. Mari Lyn Salvador , curator of The Art of Being Kuna:

“The Kuna live in an area that includes a 140-mile stretch of rainforest on the mainland and a chain of coral islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama, from San Blas Point near the Colón side of the Panama Canal to Porto Obaldía near the Colombian border. Named San Blas by outsiders, the region is now called Kuna Yala, which means 'Kuna land.'”

The Kuna people originally painted elaborate geometric shapes on their bodies. After colonization they began to make these patterns onto fabric, particularly blouses.

Molas are layered pieces of fabric which are made using a reverse appliqué technique. Layers of different-coloured cloth are sewn together. Then cutting parts of each layer away, each edge is sewn down. Generally the more layers a Mola has, the more skilled the artisan. Depending on the complexity of the design a single mola can take up to six months to make.

Mola art is popular among apprecianados. Practically anywhere in Central America there are tourist shops that sell these as pillows, placemats or wall hangings. An authentic mola is one that has been worn as part of the traditional dress by a Kuna woman. Authentic molas, those not made for tourists, are distiguishable by several factors: they are sold in pairs, made up of the back and front of a blouse, and will show signs of fading and wear.

To achieve the effect of an intricate mola my artisans painted randomly within a rectangular perimeter onto tee-shirts.

Afterwards we sewed these mola inspired cut out designs, on top, to accomplish the look of this art form.

An interesting tidbit is that the Kuna people have a high rate of albinism which in Kuna mythology elevates one to the statues of dragon defender. I’ll have to research this one more!


Jenn said...

What a great idea!

Kiandra said...

i love mola's! i plan on incorporating the technique in some of my future work...i love the project you did with the kids...my kids would love to do this!

Le blÖg d'Ötli said...

Thanks for this wonderful discovery.

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