Kuba People, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The artistry and range of surface patterns and extensive designs invented and manufactured by the Kuba people is applied across textiles, architecture, carvings, and bead and metalwork. Kuba creativity is revered as one of the great artistic traditions on the African continent. The extraordinary amount of time expended to create beautiful objects is also considered to be an intrinsic part of their value and desirability.

According to oral histories, nineteen chiefdoms of diverse ethnic mixes were united under the Kuba king in the seventeenth century. This led to a complex hierarchical system of patronage in the kingdom, with constant competition for power and rank between many levels of titleholders. Today, Kuba artists still utilize imagery that relates to title and clan affiliation in their designs for prestige objects, the display of which is part of a constant effort to elevate the importance of one’s social position. Utilitarian objects are similarly adorned and ornamented as a way to set their owners apart. 

Artists are expected to adhere to established and traditional styles, or the Kuba brand, as it were. However, artists are also challenged to innovate and to add extraordinary features without straying too far from the accepted standard. This creative freedom reflects the general attitude in which originality is regarded as the supreme mark of an individual’s value. This is clearly on display in the imaginative variety of abstracted forms, motifs, and playful patterns, partnered with technical artistry and an expansive range of surface embellishments.