Upon coming to Panama and inquiring about the native art one of the first pieces you will be shown is a mola. A mola is really a work of art and it is a pattern created on different colored cloths applied in layers and stitched together. Then the pattern is cut out on the fabric resulting in something similar to fabric collage that is stitched together with very fine stitching. The mola is and always was a piece of clothing for the Kuna Indians. It is part of the blouse of the Kuna women. The Kuna women stitch two mola’s together to make the body of the blouse. The Kuna’s are one of Panama´s indigenous culture located in the region of Panama called San Blas, famous for the beauty and unspoiled scenery of its beaches and islands.
Mola’s generally depict abstract geometric designs however with the Kuna exposure to modern culture now mola’s also depict animal designs, plant designs and other imagery.You will see in every craft market and with street sales people lots of mola’s and you may wonder what is fine about them? Mola’s can be evaluated according to the fineness of the stitching, a good quality mola will have close to invisible stitching, the number of layers in the mola, 4 layer mola’s or more command a better price, and stitch and wear marks around the edges of the panel indicate that it was made for actual use by Kuna women not only for tourist consumption. A mola may take several weeks to six months to make depending on the stitching and the complexity of the design.
Finally recognizing this art in Panama, the Museum of the Canal is currently hosting the first mola exhibition ever held in a Panamanian museum with over 200 mola’s on display. The mola’s for this exhibit are on loan from the private collection of Mr. Jose Félix Llopis who has more than 600 mola’s in his collection. His collection of mola’s has been on display in Madrid, Mexico City and soon in Prague.
Among the pieces on display are full shirts, individual panels and mola panels mounted on glass. The exhibit will run in the Canal Museum in Casco Viejo until the 31st of January, 2010. This is truly a celebration of Panamanian native art and it is hoped that a small permanent exhibit of the most representative pieces can be set up in Panama. Be sure not to miss this.
For more on Panama: PanamaQmagazine