Texas Tech University

The Mola as Art Form

From the collection of Donna and Garry Wright

On view through June 16, 2016

The mola forms part of the traditional costume of a Kuna woman. The Kuna people hail mostly from Panama but there are small villages in Colombia where they also live. Molas have their origin in body painting. Only after colonization by the Spanish and contact with missionaries did the Kuna start to transfer their traditional geometric designs to fabric, first by painting directly on the fabric and later by using the technique of reverse application. It is not known for certain when this technique was first used, but it is assumed that the oldest molas are between 150 and 170 years old.

Molas vary greatly in quality, and the pricing to buyers varies accordingly. Molas will often be found for sale with signs of use, such as stitch marks around the edges; such imperfections indicate that the mola was made for use, and not simply for sale to tourists. A mola can take from two weeks to six months to make, depending on the complexity of the design.