These patterns tell a story © Lars Schneider/Tandem Stills + Motion
Is it possible for an article of clothing to express the essence of an entire people? Well, not usually, but for the Indigenous Guna people of Panama, the colorful handwoven textiles seen here may be an exception. Molas, which means "clothing" in the Guna language, are traditionally displayed on both the front and back of women"s blouses. Even today, many Guna women prefer to wear them instead of modern attire. The textiles often feature abstract geometric patterns, as well as images from nature such as turtles, flowers, birds, and fish. Guna women of yesteryear were known to paint their bodies with those same geometric patterns and designs, and by the late 1800s they had begun weaving them onto cloth instead of painting themselves. Today, the production of molas is still generally done by women, who use an intricate process called reverse appliqué, where as many as seven layers of fabric are sewn together to form a panel, which is then hand-cut to create the vibrant designs.