WAXATLAS – Mapping African Prints – Meet Dandara Maia

Dandara Maia joined BIGSAS in October of 2019. Her journey to this point could be called unconventional. Graduating 2012 in Fashion Design and working several years in the fashion industry in Rio de Janeiro, she was specialized in textile print design. But her scientific interest grew deeper and she rejoined academia: 

“I wanted to explore, how people feel, when they dress, or how they choose a fabric with a specific pattern”. 

“Fashion is a cultural performance”

She graduated in 2018 with a M.A. Visual Arts, Design, Image and Culture at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) and her thesis titled: “African Prints as a Political Tool of the Afro-Brazilian Identity”. Working on how identities are shaped through fashion, she could barely touch the surface of all the themes and implications she wanted to talk about. 

In her doctorate she wanted to return to questions about the image, the textile and how they affect people. Her research destination was Lagos: a centre of the West African fashion industry, with high end couture, but also a rich culture of common tailors, that design and manufacture their clothes together with the individual they are made for. She wanted to compare this to her already made experience in Brazil: 

“Fashion is a cultural performance and also an act: You dress because you want to say and show something. I’m interested in what this something is and how it is different and similar in these two places”.

Change in Methodology

But the Covid-19 pandemic forced a change in methodology. With traveling abroad being highly restricted she faced a difficult challenge: How can I still pursue my questions? She started to focus on the visual analysis of the images and patterns of the prints. 

“Which type of things are inside the images that I could relate to how people feel about them. There is something that I can connect”. 

In the process Dandara developed WAXATLAS, inspired by Aby Warburgs Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, where he drew connections of recurring themes and motifs from the renaissance to modern times and illustrated these in compiled panels. WAXATLAS follows this concept and tries to map the traces and historical background of the wax prints that have developed in colonial times. Dandara poses the question:

“What is remaining from Batik of Java, what is coming from West-African cultures, or from Europeans who are looking to Africa, looking to Java and try to come up with something new?”

Waxatlas exhibition at Iwalewahaus

Waxatlas exhibition at Iwalewahaus

WAXATLAS exhibition

Working many months on conceptualizing and building her panels it remained a productive methodology, until her supervisor and director of the Iwalewahaus Dr. Ulf Vierke, upon seeing the creative and artistic nature of the panels, suggested an exhibition: this emphasizes that curatorial work can be seen as research and research as curatorial work. 

WAXATLAS, open until the 28.02.2021 for the time being, “invites you to trace the diverse routes and stories that are written into textiles”. You can check out further information here: IWALEWAHAUS – Wax Atlas


BIGSAS and the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence provide the important fundamental structure and network for Dandaras doctoral research. The strong connection to Africa and the diversity of backgrounds, interests and ideas among the Junior Fellows make it a “perfect place to study” for her. 

“I love the fact, that we are a community. Being a doctoral candidate can be very lonely – I’m not working inside a big project – I’m working alone. In BIGSAS I feel like we have such a nice community and so much opportunity to exchange – even in moments where you are not thinking, that you are talking about your research, but you are in a way. I feel home”.


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2 Responses

  1. Katrin Azevedo de Souza says:

    Liebe Dandara Maia, vielen Dank für den wunderbaren Waxatlas. Ich hatte vor einiger Zeit vor einen Onlineshops mit hochwertigen Fabrics zu kaufen, also nicht die üblichen Holland Wax Fabrics. Dies sollte im Rahmen einens Projektes geschehen. Der Zeitpunkt war wohl noch nicht ganz der richtige. Mittlerweile lebe ich in Salvador da Bahia (PElorinho) und stelle fest wo es wirklich an hochwertigen Fabrics fehlt. Ich habe Kontakte in Afrika und versuche gerade Shipping Möglichkeiten zu checken, eventuell über Deutschland. Hätten Sie Interesse an einem Austausch hierzu?
    Ich versuche zudem mit Doris Löhr bezüglich einer Süd-süd-Kooperation in Kontakt zu treten. Es geht dabei um die Sehnsüchte Afrikas in Bezug auf die afrikanische Diaspora (z.B. “O povo Tabom”) sowie natürlich Umgekehrt.
    Ich freue mich sehr auf Ihre Antwort
    Mit freundlichen Grüßen
    Katrin Azevedo de Souza

  1. 24/01/2021

    […] WAXATLAS – Mapping African Prints – Meet Dandara Maia (eng) […]

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