Stephen Hamilton

Cloth, Medicine, and Material: Examining the History of Textile Arts and Sciences from Ancient Africa to the Americas


The emergence of cloth culture and its deep affiliations with medicine, ritual, and ceremony is a crucial part of Africa’s history. This presentation explores the early origins of weaving and affiliated textile arts from the Bight of Benin to the Congo basin. It will also examine the relationship between textile arts and sciences, other forms of fibercraft, and material culture, as well as medicine. Handmade textiles and their affiliated arts played essential roles in early African history. They would continue to have significant commercial and ceremonial value in the Americas during and after the transatlantic slave trade. Furthermore, The ritual and medicinal properties associated with the dyes and fibers used in their manufacture would undergo dynamic syncretic transformations in the African Diaspora. This presentation illuminates the complex histories of these transformations while establishing their origins deep in African history.


Stephen Hamilton is a mixed-media artist, researcher, and arts educator living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. He is currently a first year Ph.D. Student in Harvard’s AAAS (African And African American Studies) Department. His research focuses on the indigenous textile industries of southern Nigeria. Hamilton has been an exhibiting artist for the past ten years. These include solo and collaborative exhibitions at the Medicine Wheel Spoke Gallery, Boston MA, (2020) and the Museum of the National Center for African American Artists, Boston MA (2016). Hamilton has worked on temporary site-specific large-scale mixed media textile and sculpture installations for the past four years. These include “The Founder’s Project,” previously located at the Bruce C. Bolling building in Boston MA (2018-2019), and “Stitched Into Memory,” previously located at Atlantic Wharf, also in Boston MA (2017). Hamilton has work in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston.


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