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Designs, skills and objects in Guna life.

Fortis, P. and Margiotti, M. (2015) 'Designs, skills and objects in Guna life.', in Crafting beauty and layering the world in Panama. Zurich: Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich, pp. 19-29.


As an everyday garment and a commodified indigenous textile, mola (pl. molagana) has long captivated the imagination of tourists, art collectors and researchers. Amongst their distinctive features, molagana display an almost infinite repertoire of designs and motives, always open to novel incorporation of images from Panama City and elsewhere. This depends both on the creativity and personal taste of the individual woman who makes a mola and on the intrinsic versatility of this rather unique form of female attire. Another distinctive feature is the visual density of molagana, the fact that they are always filled in with iconic elements, patterns and shapes that fill the space so that no area of the composition is ever left empty. The result of this visual density combined with the extreme variation of designed motifs, as well as other formal features, is that molagana have become over the past decades a distinctive indigenous artefact appealing to the international market and museums the world around. Their fate has most often been that of becoming detached from the other components of women’s dress, treated as a flat rectangular panel hung on a wall, and detached from the social and cultural context in which they had been made. What we want to do in this text and the exhibition that it accompanies is show the multidimensionality of mola, placing it in the everyday life of Guna people and showing its relations with other objects, its makers and their own ideas.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Full text:(VoR) Version of Record
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Date accepted:08 December 2015
Date deposited:21 October 2016
Date of first online publication:2015
Date first made open access:No date available

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