This proposed study, which is an extension of my current research, sets out to examine the representations of the chitenje (a wrap-around cloth) in Malawian popular arts, as a site for examining how questions of gender, sexuality, class, and national belonging are negotiated. The chitenje is traditionally considered to be a respectable form of dress which preserves Malawian cultural values hence reminding us of how women are often considered as carriers of traditions. As a form of dress common to Malawian women, it has variously been imagined in Malawian popular arts such as newspaper cartoons, carvings, paintings, songs and even oral art forms such as proverbs. The focus on this dress has, however, often been limited to the occasions that it is worn, how and why it is worn. Hence, there is a dearth of critical work which interrogates the representation of the chitenje in the Malawian popular imaginary and the complex, disrupted and negotiated meanings that obtain from these representations. Focusing on representations of the chitenje as a form of dress in local newspaper cartoons and popular songs (from 1972-2014), I propose a novel and critical method of reading the chitenje as a social text.
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The politics of dress, gender and sexuality in Malawian popular art