Creative producers revive Madagascar’s iconic lambahoany

Exhibition of artist Ridha Andriantomanga's new lambahoany designs in Antananarivo. Credit: Ridha Andriantomanga.

An innovative partnership between local artists and a non-government organization (NGO) recently helped breathe new life into Madagascar’s most well-known, but ailing local textile-based creative industry – lambahoany. National production of the lambahoany – the iconic fabric of Malagasy society – has been in decline since the 1990s. This is partly due to cheaper colorful imports. The partnership set out to revive the lambahoany for a new generation and new markets.

With funding from UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity, CITE, the national NGO involved, organized training for the local artists to create new lambahoany designs.

Graphic artist and videographer, Ridha Andriantomanga, was one of those involved. “This is my first experience creating lambahoany. Through the project, I had the chance to discover the different steps in making it and the different technical constraints,” she said.

Innovative and consistent marketing created a buzz around the modern local lambahoany. More than 2,000 people visited an exhibition of the artists’ prints, held in the capital, Antananarivo, in December 2011. The creations were also widely displayed in catalogues and pamphlets, at art galleries and on urban billboards. Meanwhile, a documentary show in April 2012 attracted another 1,500 visitors. CITE also organized a forum for artists and interested partners to help establish business links.

As a result, CITE managed to arrange a contract between the artists and the Cotona textile company. Three thousand lambahoany were produced in the first batch carrying the new, modern designs and a social message from the artists themselves. These have been available in markets since May 2012.

Another artist involved, Andrianetrazafy Hemerson, said: “The project gave businesses the opportunity to benefit from the creativity of artists and helped artists to establish links with businesses.”

The project promoted the lambahoany as a national art form and fostered the creative renewal of its designs. Catie de Balmann, collaborator of the CITE project, explained the lambahoany’s cultural significance: “lambahoany envelopes the Malagasy people throughout their existence, the men as the women, the living as the dead… It is also and above all, a symbol of their identity rooted in morals and rituals. Wearers of the lambahoany present one of the main images of Madagascar.”

Through the project, artists gained exposure and access to a wider market. CITE is now working with the Association of Cultural Mediators and other actors to promote a second project phase, including new designs and exhibitions. There are also plans to make a lambahoany collection with a view to exchanging it with other countries and marketing it internationally.

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