Fashioning Identity: Mola Textiles of Panamá
The mola is a key component of traditional dress among the indigenous Guna (formerly Kuna) women of Panamá. Guna women have been sewing mola blouses since the turn of the 20th century, and they have become powerful symbols of their culture and identity. During the Guna Revolution of 1925, Guna people rallied around their right to make and wear molas as a statement of their independence. They ultimately gained sovereignty over their territory, an archipelago of hundreds of small islands along Panamá’s Atlantic coast, known collectively as Guna Yala.
Molas are masterfully hand-sewn cotton panels that are made in pairs and sewn into blouses. They feature a wide array of vibrantly colored compositions, with designs ranging from geometric abstraction to imaginative scenes inspired by popular Western culture. Strong expressions of duality, repetition, and equilibrium are evident in mola imagery, both in single panels and those comprising the front and back of a blouse. Driven by precise aesthetic values and a spirited practice of artistic critique, Guna women are passionate about making ever more innovative mola designs that continue to push the boundaries of their cultural tradition.
This exhibition presents both individual mola panels and complete mola blouses from the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Denison University in Granville, Ohio. The molas on display span distinct periods of Guna history, from the era of the 1925 revolution to the 1980s.