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The practice of using cloth to commemorate events and communicate messages is universal. In central Africa, message-laden cloth is often particularly arresting, as is the case with this brilliant, colourful jacket. When someone wears clothing with a visible message, that person effectively becomes a walking billboard.

Where was this textile created?

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The Big Fight

Africa: Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
c. 1987
Printed cotton, rayon lining
79 cm x 94 cm
Gift of Dr. Howard Gorman
T94.0176 Textile Museum of Canada

The cloth from which this jacket is made features a portrait of the former president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, wearing his trademark leopard-skin hat. Surrounding Mobutu’s picture are two rings: the first is a ring of fire and the second is a black ring with Mobutu le fondateur (the founder) written above, and 20 Mai 20eme anniversaire (20th anniversary) du MPR 1967-1987 written below. MPR stands for Mobutu’s party, Mouvement Populaire de la Revolution. The fabric was likely printed in Africa, but retailer JCPenney had the jacket manufactured for sale in the United States.

The 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” featured African American boxers Muhammad Ali and George Forman. The fight took place in Zaire and began at 5 a.m. local time in order for it to air during prime time in the United States. Mobutu financed the match as “a gift from President Mobutu to the people of Zaire honouring black people.” The money did not actually belong to Mobutu, but came from Zaire’s nearly bankrupt national treasury. The event gave Mobutu a great deal of exposure particularly among African Americans, and all on the coattails of Muhammad Ali – the most famous boxer in the world at that time.

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