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CMA displays textiles

“Fashioning Identity: Mola Textiles of Panama” will be on display through Oct. 3 at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

For the Guna women of Panama, the mola –a hand-sewn cotton blouse and a key component of traditional dress — is a powerful symbol of culture and identity. “Fashioning Identity” explores the mola as both a cultural marker and the product of an artistic tradition, demonstrating the important role women artists play in the construction of social identity.

The Guna (formerly Kuna) are an indigenous people living on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Guna women began creating molas by the early 20th century. When the Panamanian government sought to suppress their culture, the Guna rebelled in 1925, rallying around their right to make and wear molas as a statement of their independence.

Molas are crafted from masterfully hand-sewn cotton panels that are made in pairs and sewn into blouses. The panels feature a wide array of vibrantly colored, often whimsical subjects, ranging from geometric abstraction to motifs based on the natural world, Guna life and mythology and Western popular culture.

According to CMA Director William Griswold, “A women’s art form, molas serve as visual embodiments of the strength and survival of Guna identity. At the same time, they are practical elements of daily life as clothing and expressions of personal individuality and creativity subject to changing fashion trends from one generation to the next.”

The exhibition presents both individual panels and complete blouses (both are known as molas) and celebrates several gifts that have entered the museum’s collection over the years.

The exhibition is accompanied by bilingual (English / Spanish) gallery labels as well as a bilingual booklet.

For more information, go to clevelandart.org and 888-CMA-0033.

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