Tartan: Its journey through the African Diaspora

Tartan: Its Journey through the African Diaspora was our first major project and told the story of  how tartan travelled around the world and through its influence led to aspects of material culture being developed  in various parts of Africa and the Diaspora. The project looks at how these cultures adapted, adopted or absorbed this influence to bring significance to fabrics such as madras cloth. Madras cloth was created in India and then sold to people in the Caribbean, the fabric has been used in the development of many islands national dress.

Scotland has a long historical and cultural relationship with tartan. Tartan: Its Journey through the African Diaspora uncovered the history of how tartan came to Scotland, and the dichotomy between the use and social significance of madras fabric in the Caribbean and the US. The project explored the emergence of tartans in Kenya in the form of shukas; the blankets worn by the Maasai Mara and discovered the relationship to tartan that has developed amongst the Zulu’s in South Africa.

The project, which had 3 major outputs; an exhibition, a documentary screening and a dance performance, highlighted the heritage and legacy of how these fabrics came to move around the world and explained how cultures often intertwine to develop different traditions and cultural practices.  There were also a number of public workshops where members of the public were invited to engage with the history and heritage in a fun and creative ways. There were also interactive elements to the exhibition where visitors were able to learn how to tie various garments using the provided culturally relevant fabric.

Our journey’s story travels to Scotland, Kenya South Africa and various countries within the Caribbean passing through India, and quickly docking in the USA along the way. This enabled us to map out a broad picture of how the development of these patterns have come to influence the economic, cultural and social developments in these countries/ regions.

Of our three main outputs; the exhibition took place at Craft Central gallery in Clerkenwell, central London from the 5th – 31st August 2014; The dance performance and the documentary screening of how the whole project was put together, took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum on

12th September 2014.

For further enquires contact info@ciad.org.uk 

This project was kindly supported by and in association with


Cultural Fashion News From Around The African Diaspora