Self-Expression from an African Perspective

Ethiopia’s Surma and Mursi tribes in the southwest Omo River valley region present a unique perspective on self-expression in the African style.  As a result of their nomadic lifestyle, location near lush vegetation, and inventive nature, tribe members have taken body painting and adornment to a new level of creativity which has inspired the color palette for ethniciti collections.

Sophisticated color palette

Colors taken directly from nature, the various strata of rock in the vast Rift Valley geologic formation, yield subtle shades of ochre, red, pure white, off white, and light gray.  Green is obtained from stone found in the riverbed.  The canvas for this sophisticated mixture of colors is the flesh of the tribe members, a reddish, copper hue, lighter in shade and more reflective of light rays compared to the darker skin of the Ugandans, Kenyans, and Sudanese to the south and west.

Natural accessorization

Flora and fauna found near the river – grass, leaves, stems, flowers, roots, shells, nuts, wild fruit, papyrus, and gourds- are accessories to this creation of natural fashion.

Shapes and forms

The amazing and aesthetically brilliant juxtapositions of color, texture, shape, and form, are not pondered and studied.  Spontaneity is key to the effects achieved with body painting done rapidly to preserve the natural colors.  Pigments created using water and stone fragments dry within a minute’s time. The result is a creative work worthy of any modern artist or fashion designer, but with the natural freedom of childhood.

The design spirit of the Surma and Mursi exemplifies ethniciti’s philosophy of organized eclecticism, freedom of self-expression, and African-inspired design.  We have organized items from our five collections – foundations, décor, bon appétit, boudoir, entre nous, into color groups based upon palettes inspired by the Omo River valley tribes.  What do you think?


Photography by Hans Silvester in his book, Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa.


2 responses to “Self-Expression from an African Perspective

  1. Beautiful presentation! This is the type of slide show that would work well at NY’s Direction by Indigo seminars series. I have always wanted to create colors palette for our lifestyle because I didn’t believe the forecasters could not tell me what related to MY customer base .

  2. Your timing couldn’t have been better! I own that book and was looking through it with my children again last weekend. We took the time to note the use of color, pattern and the sheer brilliance of the over all design of their costumes.
    It goes to show that whether it be in the body adornment featured in this spectacular book, the beautiful baskets woven by the women I trade with in Uganda or the Afro-centric design work that you do… nature comes in all color pallets and beauty is often simpler to achieve than many believe.

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