The materials in this digital collection were part of an exhibition at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising titled Kuna Molas: Sewn Stories and the Interplay of Tradition and Change, August 18, 2014-July 31, 2015.
Molas are created through a reverse appliqué process in which two to five layers of fabric are stacked, cut through and sewn together. The term “mola” is the Kuna word for clothing, and it refers to Kuna women's traditional blouses as well as to the hand-stitched decorative front and back panels of the blouse. Made by the women of Kuna Yala in Panama, they feature original imagery inspired by local influences such as the Kuna life and worldview, as well as global influences such as tourism and pop culture.
The exhibition featured more than 70 items made between the 1920s and the 1990s, including mola blouses and panels, two full ensembles, small tourist items, a large quilt consisting of 73 mola panels, and photographs of Kuna villages and villagers. The molas, photographs, and supporting objects were donated to the Avenir Museum in 2014 by Colorado Springs textile collector, exhibition developer, and author Joyce Cheney, who collected the objects in Panama from the Kuna in the 1990s. The collection traveled for almost 10 years as part of a national touring exhibition curated by Cheney.
The largest of seven indigenous groups in Panama, the Kuna inhabit the San Blas Islands, a chain of more than 350 small coral islands and mainland rain forest stretching 140 miles along Panama’s Caribbean coast.