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The Antony Griffiths & Judy Rudoe Collection of African textiles allocated to the British Museum under the Cultural Gifts Scheme

A remarkable collection of 438 African textiles has been secured by the Cultural Gifts Scheme and allocated to the British Museum.

The collection has been generously given to the Museum by Antony Griffiths, a former Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings, and his wife Judy Rudoe, Assistant Keeper in the Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory at the Museum. Of the 438 textiles, 268 have been given by Antony Griffiths and 170 by Judy Rudoe; together they form the Antony Griffiths and Judy Rudoe Collection of African textiles.

This collection was formed over more than a decade by the donors through reputable dealers in London and by researchers working, travelling or residing in Africa, with many textiles acquired directly from the communities in which they were made. The majority of the textiles date to the 20th century. However, there are notable exceptions such as a series of early aso oke (‘high status’ cloths) from the Yoruba people, Nigeria that were purchased through Dr Duncan Clarke who carried out his PhD research in a compound of aso oke weavers in Oyo town in 1995-6.

The group of woven cloths given by Antony Griffiths was made in the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, from Mali across to northern Nigeria, as well as within   the Yoruba-speaking areas of southern Nigeria, in Cameroon and elsewhere in Central Africa.

The strength and dynamism of Nigerian weaving and craftsmanship are evident in the number and diversity of textiles in this collection.  By examining individual examples we can trace the history of trade – locally, regionally and internationally – through the use of materials, colours and designs as well as the high level systems of patronage that have supported and continue to support the production of specific types of cloth. Highlights of this collection include a nineteenth century four panel Ijebu Ode cloth with distinctive weft-float patterning that was created by Yoruba weavers in south east Nigeria. Through a process of internal and external trade and stylistic diffusion this cloth type was subsequently introduced in the Niger Delta in the form of Akwete cloths which are well represented in the Museum collections. The addition of the Ijebu cloths allows closer analysis and understanding of the two traditions.

As well as the exemplary collection of aso oke cloths mentioned above there is also a fine series of Yoruba woven alaari  (imported magenta silk) cloths and indigo-dyed stitch-resist ndop prestige cloths from Cameroon.

The group of textiles given by Judy Rudoe was made in North and West Africa. The cloths come from Tunisia and Morocco and from the countries along the west coast of Africa from Senegal through Sierra Leone to the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

This collection has a specific focus on weavings from the east of Ghana, close to the border with Togo. These Ewe kente cloths complement the existing Asante-focused collections and offer tantalising insights into possible technological borrowings, the development of textile traditions that are associated with specific cultural identities and their transfer to other groups where they take on different cultural values.

Indigo dyeing is well-established throughout West Africa, however, the use of ikat is restricted to a few communities. This collection includes one of the earliest suruku kawa (spotted hyena) ikat cloths originating with the Dyula people in the Ivory Coast. A fine checkerboard cloth also from the Ivory Coast draws on the composition of Malian blankets but is adapted to local taste by the addition of figurative float designs suggesting earlier trade or cultural connections. Finally there is a series of narrow-strip cloths from the north eastern part of the Ivory Coast, around the town of Bondoukou, rarely featuring in museum collections. They represent an important stylistic and historical link between the textiles of Mali, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. These relatively unknown cloths are of a complexity and sophistication that rival those of the Asante and Ewe weavers.

The Antony Griffiths and Judy Rudoe Collection illustrates the continuing artistry of African textile production and the significant role of textiles and dress in African material culture. These cloths reveal the complex connections and distinctions amongst neighbouring cultural groups. Frequently inherited as heirlooms or given as diplomatic gifts, textiles have been (and continue to be) important indicators of wealth and status. The collection will build on the reputation of the British Museum’s African collection as a world-renowned resource for new research and study and will provide additional opportunities for curatorial staff to work with colleagues in partner museums in Africa to share knowledge and to extend expertise in this area.

Following the acceptance and allocation of the collection, Antony Griffiths said: “Having spent my career happily as a servant of the Trustees of the British Museum, it gives me great pleasure to contribute something to the development of the collections, and to join the long line of curators who have given works to the Museum. The collections of African cloths formed by me and my wife, Judy Rudoe, have been assembled to complement the great collection already in the British Museum, of which the major part was formed by Charles Beving before the First World War. We hope that our gifts, when they are published on the Museum’s website, will give as much pleasure to a public around the world as they gave to us when we discovered this area of outstanding creativity within the arts of Africa.”

Judy Rudoe, said: “My career at the British Museum has taken me in many different directions from where I started. I never imagined it might be possible to assemble on a curator’s salary a collection that has been judged of national importance in a field that is not my own. It gives me enormous pleasure to have helped the Museum to fill in some of the gaps in its representation of the rich textile traditions of North and West Africa, and to put something back into the institution which I have served for forty-five years and from which I have learned and gained so much.”

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: “This is a highly significant and unique collection that has been acquired systematically to both complement the Museum’s existing collection and to address gaps in the collection. Importantly, many of the groups of textiles acquired help to extend knowledge of historical cross-cultural trade and exchange, particularly within the West African region. This enables us to make connections between communities and trading networks where written documentation is often not available.”

Edward Harley, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said: “The Antony Griffiths & Judy Rudoe Collection of African textiles is remarkable for the exceptional examples of fine and rare cloths, primarily from North and West Africa. Textiles are one of the most dynamic areas of African culture and are highly significant for being, amongst other things, powerful expressions of both cultural tradition and innovation. This generous gift by the donors, both of whom share close links to the British Museum, brings these extraordinary textiles into the public domain where they can be widely studied and enjoyed.”

Notes to editors

Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government and allocated to the British Museum, 2018.

The acceptance of this Antony Griffiths and Judy Rudoe Collection generates a tax reduction of £42,000 for Anthony Griffiths and £45,000 for Judy Rudoe.

Images and captions can be downloaded here

The Cultural Gifts Scheme was launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in March 2013 as an important element of its expanding programme to encourage philanthropy for the arts. It is administered by Arts Council and enables UK taxpayers to donate important objects to the nation during their lifetime. Items accepted under the Scheme are allocated to public collections and are available for all. In return, donors will receive a reduction in their income tax, capital gains tax or corporation tax liability, based on a set percentage of the value of the object they are donating: 30 per cent for individuals and 20 per cent for companies. For more information please go to the Arts Council website.

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.


Antony Griffiths & Judy Rudoe Collection

  1. Antony Griffiths Collection
A collection of 268 African woven cloths made in the Sahel region south of the Sahara desert, from Mali across to northern Nigeria, as well as within the Yoruba-speaking areas of southern Nigeria, in Cameroon and elsewhere in Central Africa divided into categories according to place and community as follows:

NIGERIA (163 textiles)
(i) 77 aso oke textiles, Yoruba people
(ii) 22 vertical loom textiles, Yoruba people
(iii) 4 wide strip textiles, Yoruba or Nupe people
(iv) 4 adire (indigo resist-dyed) textiles, Yoruba people
(v) 7 textiles from Ijebu Ode, Yoruba people
(vi) 5 two panel textiles, Igbomina Yoruba people
(vii) 1 two panel textile from Ososo
(viii) 2 textiles from Somorika
(ix) 4 multiple panel textiles from Okene and Owo
(x) 5 panel textiles from Igarra, Ebira people
(xi) 1 wide strip textile, Ogori-Magongo people
(xii) 4 Nigerian textiles from uncertain ethnic groups
(xiii) 2 narrow-strip textiles, Jukun people
(xiv) 4 single panel textiles from Akwete and the Niger Delta
(xv) 2 narrow-strip textiles, Gbari people
(xvi) 4 tie-dye textiles, Tiv and Okpella peoples
(xvii) 4 narrow-strip textiles, Nupe people
(xviii) 11 garments (5 Yoruba people; 3 Hausa people; 1 Nupe people; 2 Nupe or Hausa peoples)

(i) 9 wide strip textiles, Dogon and Bamana peoples, Mali
(ii) 12 bogolanfini (mud cloths),  Bamana people,  Mali
(iii) 10 wool or cotton blankets, Fulbe people,  Mali
(iv) 14 miscellaneous textiles and garments, Mali
(v) 10 wide strip textiles, Niger and Burkina Faso
(vi) 5 single or wide strip textiles, Hausa people, northern Nigeria
(vii) 18 indigo resist-dyed textiles; hats; beadwork aprons; and painted barkcloth,  Cameroon
(viii) 22 raffia textiles, Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of Congo
(ix) 5 raffia textiles (4 Democratic Republic of Congo; 1 Niger Delta, Nigeria)
  1. Judy Rudoe Collection
A collection of 170 woven cloths from North and West Africa:  Tunisia and Morocco and the countries along the west coast of Africa  from Senegal through Sierra Leone to the Ivory Coast and Ghana divided into categories according to place and community as follows:

WEST AFRICA (126 textiles)
(i) 2 narrow-strip textiles, Mende people, Sierra Leone
(ii) 4 narrow-strip textiles, Guro people, Ivory Coast
(iii) 3 narrow-strip  textiles, Senufo people, Ivory Coast
(iv) 6 indigo-dyed textiles, Ivory Coast
(v) 4  narrow-strip  textiles, Baule people, Ivory Coast
(vi) 6 narrow-strip textiles, Dyula people, Ivory Coast
(vii) 4 wide strip textiles with float weft designs, Ivory Coast
(viii) 13 narrow-strip textiles from Bondoukou, Ivory Coast
(ix) 6 narrow-strip textiles from Ivory Coast/Ghana borders
(x) 7 tie-dyed raffia  textiles, Dida people, Ivory Coast
(xi) 16 narrow-strip kente textiles, Asante people, Ghana
(xii) 1  adinkra textile, Asante people, Ghana
(xiii) 35 narrow-strip  textiles, Ewe people, Ghana
(xiv) 3 narrow-strip textiles, Ewe people, Togo
(xv) 5 wide panel textiles , Togo and the Republic of Benin
(xvi) 11 wax-resist printed textiles, West Africa and the UK

(i) 19 wool textiles, Berber people, Tunisia and Libya
(ii) 9 wool or cotton textiles, Berber people, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya
(iii) 3 indigo-dyed wide strip textiles, Cape Verde
(iv) 8 wide strip textiles, Mandyak people, Guinea Bissau
(v) 5 resist-dyed textiles, Senegal and Mali

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