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Indianapolis Museum of Art opens MOLA. Kuna Needle Arts from the San Blas Islands

Indianapolis Museum of Art presents MOLA. Kuna Needle Arts from the San Blas Islands, an exhibition including a selection of about 50 of the finest molas from the Museum’s collection, on view October 12, 2012-April 28, 2013.

Mola (shirt), Kuna people, 1920-1970, appliqued cotton, L: 18 5/8 in. The Paul and Irene Hollister Collection of Kuna molas. 2008.380

In 2008, a collection of more than 350 Molas was donated to the IMA by Irene Hollister, whose late husband, Paul Hollister – a writer, lecturer, painter and photographer – collected them in the 1960s and 1970s. Living in New Hampshire, Hollister sought out the IMA from her research of textile collections. The molas represent the textile arts of the Kuna Indians, the indigenous people of Panama and Colombia. The Kuna are famous for their bright, colorful, and meticulously appliquéd textiles, which adorn the front and back of Kuna women’s blouses.

Molas are handmade, using at least two layers of fabric in contrasting colors. Older and more complicated molas may be constructed with up to seven layers of fabric. The complex designs of these textiles reflect their origins in Kuna body painting practices. After the Spanish colonization and subsequent interactions with missionaries, the Kuna people began to adapt their traditional designs in body painting for use on fabrics for clothing. At the same time, factory-made cotton fabrics became widely available to the Kuna people.

Initially the Kuna women painted their designs on fabric, but over time they learned the complicated technique known as reverse appliqué. The motifs are either geometric depicting mazelike abstract patterns or figurative, featuring people, animals and birds that represent many traditional Kuna myths and legends. Depictions of Western graphics and commercial designs have also been popular in the last 50 years.

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