Kanga as a Form of Visual Communication

Ziddi Msangi
Associate Professor
Design Department, College of Visual & Performing Arts
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Founding Faculty, Graphic Design
Vermont College of Fine Arts

Throughout East Africa, but especially in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, women wear wraps called kanga. They contain a central image along with a patterned motif and saying. They range from political messages, proverbs, and religious messages. All ethnic groups seem to embrace the form. In a traditional hierarchical social structure where there are prohibitions against women engaging in gossip, speaking out of turn and shaming, kanga are used as a way of circumventing these restrictions.

This presentation explores the intersection of private and public space these garments inhabit when women wear them and their evolution as a distinct form of visual communication.