We made it down in time to the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington where the temporary exhibit “Africa Fashion” is on display until the 16th April 2023. So you can say we were well ahead of time! Time, as a concept, a framework that Africa still finds itself constrained to… A voice in the back of my head says, forcing me to roll my eyes a little… I pause and take in the glory for a limited time only.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect because the continent is in itself such a large and deeply diverse geographical and geopolitical space. Would it be country by country, ethnic group or nationality and what would go into the selection process for curation?
The exhibit covered two floors with a multitude of sections, cornered, centred, framed and open plan : African Cultural Renaissance, The Politics and Poetics of Cloth, Vanguard, Capturing Change, Minimalism , Mixology , Artisanal, Afrotopia, Sartorialists, and Adornment.
Starting with the African independence and liberation years from the mid-late 1950s – 1994 that sparked a radical political and social reordering across the continent, the African Cultural Renaissance section looks at the long period of unbounded creativity. Spanning fashion, music, the visual arts, protest posters, publications and records, we see objects that embody this era of radical change. Early publications from members of the Mbari Club, established for African writers, artists, and musicians, sit alongside the cover artwork for Beasts of No Nation by Fela Kuti – a call-to-arms album which embodied the communal feeling of frustration with the politics of the time, but also the energy of Africa’s creativity and its artists’ drive to create beautiful things.Africa Fashion – V & A Museum
Spanning iconic mid-20th century to contemporary creatives through photographs, textiles, music and the visual arts, Africa Fashion will explore the vitality and global impact of a fashion scene as dynamic and varied as the continent itself.Africa Fashion
I was mainly drawn in as a fan of Loza Maléombho, Kenneth Ize, Bubu Ogisi, Lisa Folawiyo and Bayo Oke-Lawal contemporary African designers I admire. Lisa’s attention to detail in embellishments on print fabrics and flapper-esque super chic silhouettes. Loza’s choppy cut out pieces, stop motion masks, and heavy use of gold and rafia. Bayo’s gender fluid pieces and coupled together a person style that defies stereotypes and design expectations. Contemporary Vanguards!
The first generation of African designers to gain attention throughout the continent and globally can be seen in the Vanguard section. Many of the garments on show hail from the archives of iconic mid-twentieth century African designers – Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi.Africa Fashion
Foregrounding individual African voices and perspectives, the exhibition presents African fashions as a self-defining art form that reveals the richness and diversity of African histories and cultures. Africa Fashion celebrates the vitality and innovation of a selection of fashion creatives from over 20 countries, exploring the work of the vanguard in the twentieth century and the creatives at the heart of this eclectic and cosmopolitan scene today.
The Politics and Poetics of Cloth considers the importance of cloth in many African countries, and how the making and wearing of indigenous cloths in the moment of independence became a strategic political act. Wax prints, commemorative cloth, àdìrẹ, kente and bògòlanfini are featured – examples of a rich textile history that includes thousands of techniques from across the continent. On display is commemorative cloth made in the early 1990s following the release of Nelson Mandela, featuring a portrait of the soon-to-be first Black President of South Africa and the words “A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL – WORKING TOGETHER FOR JOBS, PEACE AND FREEDOM”.Africa Fashion
My questions were and still are;
“Will these pieces ever be on display in this way on the Continent?
Where do we go to find out about these archival pieces outside of the Western gaze?”
Africa Fashion, Asia Fashion, Europe Fashion, saying it together like that sounds grammatically incorrect. Though I appreciate the concept and enjoyed the exhibit, there is always that tingling inside about AFRICA as a continuous single lens story.
“Is it African or not? What makes it African? The struggle and resistance or just and because it is borne of the indigenes and their influences in the continent.
This ensemble explores new and old weaving techniques and features works from Nigerian designers Nkwo Onwuka and Kenneth Ize. Nkwo explores ways of using waste materials in her designs while still preserving traditional textile craft skills. Kenneth Ize’s designs are a modern take on Akwaete – traditional Igbo weaving techniques which use palm, hemp, and cotton strands to produce thinly woven, multicoloured delicate blankets of fibers.