May 2, 2022
U.S. Virgin Islands: Madras
As part of a unique push to celebrate shared cultural identity in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts (VICA) has supported the development and licensing of an official Virgin Islands (V.I.) madras pattern. Madras textiles, which originated in Madras, India—now known as Chennai—became an important part of the African diaspora and have special significance in Caribbean culture and celebrations.
The legislation codifying the creation of the V.I. madras and the role of VICA was enacted in 2021. The bill describes the decades-long culmination of conversations, celebrations and history that led to the creation of the official V.I. madras design. Several years ago, the St. Croix Heritage Dancers sponsored, with funding from VICA, the official project to design the V.I. madras pattern. U.S. Virgin Islands artist Debbie Sun was commissioned and produced the official design (pictured), representing colors significant to the islands:
- turquoise for Caribbean waters,
- royal blue for deep-sea harbors,
- pink for conch shells and a call to freedom,
- green for abundant natural resources,
- white for the original cultural attire of flour sacks,
- red for love and strength, and
- yellow for the ginger-thomas, the official flower of USVI.
With the copyrighting of the pattern in 2022, VICA took on the role of regulating and licensing the sale of the USVI madras. With an initial $5,000 appropriation provided in the 2021 legislation, VICA was able to secure an exclusive manufacturer of the cloth. Now, VICA distributes the V.I. madras cloth for direct purchase and regulates the official sale of the patterned cloth by six licensed retailers. VICA also assists with ensuring the integrity of the pattern’s use and preserving its cultural significance. To learn more, contact VICA Executive Director Tasida H. Kelch.
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