Stitching Worlds: Mola Art of the Kuna

Art of the Americas Building, Level 4
April 13, 2012–October 13, 2012

Created by Kuna women, molas are a unique art form constructed from layers of cloth that are cut and stitched into extraordinarily colorful and intricate motifs. Molas are worn by Kuna women as part of their everyday garments and along with headcloths and jewelry are markers of Kuna identity. The mola style is uniquely drawn from indigenous traditions, and it embodies the adaptive and creative nature of Kuna culture in an ever-changing world. The designs are inspired by both ancient and contemporary sources.

The Kuna people live on Panama’s east coast, on a coral-reef archipelago called San Blas or Kuna Yala (Kuna Land),  an autonomous indigenous territory within Panama. The region has been a global crossroads since the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, and evidence of these foreign influences can be found in the designs of Kuna works of art. Many molas feature slogans, names, numbers, or letters; the text may express an idea or simply be used as a design element. Images from Western culture, including advertisements and logos, are also incorporated into molas. Today, in part because of the interest of contemporary collectors, molas are also an integral part of the Kuna’s livelihood.

Stitching Worlds: Mola Art of the Kuna was curated by guest curator Elena Phipps.

Map of Panama

Image: Felix the Cat, Panama, San Blas, Kuna People, last quarter of 20th century, Cotton; layered cut-work, applique and embroidery, hand stitched, 13 3/4 x 16 1/2 in., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Lindy and Ellen Narver in memory of Grace Narver, M.2009.40.6.