African weaves. Insika screens from Rwanda
History and restoration
Vatican Museums Conference Hall – in person and live streaming
Thursday in the Museums on 16 March will lead us to Rwanda, to discover the precious Insika screens and their recent restoration in the Ethnological Materials Laboratory of the Vatican Museums, coordinated by the Director Stefania Pandozy, under the scientific direction of the Curator of the Vatican Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi, Father Nicola Mapelli.
Produced in bamboo and interwoven vegetable fibres, the insika are among the rare attestations of Rwanda’s sophisticated and complex society, reflected also in the refinement of the production technique. Thanks to bibliographic and archival research, underpinned by fruitful exchanges with international institutions and scholars, much useful information has been gathered about this type of artefact, the object of limited study. The weaving and braiding of the fibres were carried out primarily by high-ranking women who, in keeping with tradition, reproduced established and conventional decorative motifs in geometric shapes inspired by the animal and plant world.
The unique interweaving of lines, as well as the dynamic design of chiaroscuro, made these screens the ideal furnishing elements to elegantly and preciously delimit the different rooms within royal residences, thus creating reserved areas for various daily activities.
The two insika that are the subject of the conference, which originated in Rwanda, were sent via the White Fathers for the 1925 Vatican Missionary Exposition. Today they can be admired by visitors in the Anima Mundi Vatican Ethnological Museum, along the renewed “Africa” exhibition itinerary, recently opened to the public.
In 2022, the precarious state of conservation and the fragility of the constitutive materials necessitated major restoration intervention, preceded not only by a careful study of the braiding and weaving techniques, but also detailed diagnostic studies of the various types of vegetable fibres used, as well as the pigments and binders employed.
The restoration was carried out with the generous support of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, who enthusiastically “adopted” the project, closely following all the various phases of its execution.