Fashion in Africa is as diverse and creative as the continent itself. Now Africa’s many talented designers, models, photographers, illustrators, make-up artists and other professionals are in the spotlight as part of the UK’s largest exhibition of fashion from the continent to date.
On view through April 2023 at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, “Africa Fashion” celebrates the “irresistible creativity, ingenuity and unstoppable global impact of contemporary African fashion” through the lens of 45 designers from more than 20 countries. according to a statement.
More than 250 objects make up the exhibition, including garments from the personal archives of some of Africa’s most iconic designers of the mid-20th century, including Nigerian fashionista Shade Thomas-Fahm; Chris Seydou, the “father of African fashion”; Ghanaian innovator Kofi Ansah; and Alphadi, “the wizard of the desert”, to name a few.
Through photographs, video footage, editorials, sketches, and other artifacts, the exhibition also tells the stories of more contemporary designers and creatives, including Imane Ayissi, IAMISIGO, Moshions, Thebe Magugu, and Sindiso Khumalo. Marrakech-based Maison ArtC designed a new work specifically for the exhibition titled A dialogue between cultures.
While African fashion is the exhibition’s overarching theme, the show goes much further, embracing the “inner spirit” of Africanness that is not restricted by geography, according to Christine Checinska, chief curator of the Museum of African Textiles and of the African diaspora. Fashion.
Beginning with Africa’s era of independence, which spanned roughly from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, the exhibition explores the role fashion has played in the continent’s cultural renaissance, alongside art and music. . It also examines how social media, digital technology, and celebrities have helped bring African fashion to a wider global audience in recent years.
“[African designers] they are changing the whole language of fashion,” says Checinska artnetIt’s Christine Ajudua. “The fashion world is turning to Africa and African creatives are doing things their way.”
Founded in 1852, the history of the V&A is intimately linked to British colonialism throughout Africa. The colonizers stole many of the most valuable items in the museum’s collection, and in the collections of other leading British museums, from African communities; in 1868, for example, British soldiers looted the so-called Maqdala treasures during an invasion of Ethiopia.
More broadly, African creativity has been largely “excluded or misrepresented in the museum, due to the historical divide between art and ethnographic museums that stems from our colonial roots and entrenched racist assumptions,” Checinska tells Agence France -Press. But as Lauren Cochrane writes for the guardianthe exhibition “could be seen as part of a broader movement to acknowledge these stories and bring a more diverse range of voices to the institution.”
Checinska agrees, adding that the exhibition is long overdue. Museum staff spent two years consulting with designers, outside experts, African diaspora youth and a multi-generational community panel to make sure the exhibition was the right fit.
“It is a moment of transition that marks the commitment we have to celebrate African creativity in all areas,” says Checinska to the guardian.
“african fashion” will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum until April 16, 2023.