Africa Fashion - Exhibition at V&A
6th - 15th April
This week, we viewed the exhibition which was all about African Fashion and took place at the V&A.
Entering the Africa Fashion exhibition at the esteemed Victoria and Albert Museum in London was, for me, a long-anticipated experience. I was finally about to experience for myself the immersive beauty and cultural richness of this much-heralded event. Embarking on the exhibition, I couldn't shake the thrill of anticipation.
The exhibition was a visual feast - with its interactive displays and diverse array of garments, textiles, music, and visual arts drawing me into the fascinating world of African fashion. From classic pieces steeped in tradition to bold and avant-garde designs that pushed the boundaries of creativity, the exhibition showcased the dynamic evolution of African fashion over time. It was a contemplative experience that left me deeply appreciative of the incredible creativity, innovation, and diversity that define African fashion, and the global impact it has made. The exhibition left an indelible impression, igniting a sense of wonder and admiration for the vibrant tapestry of African fashion and its enduring cultural significance.
The exhibition itself took me on a contemplative journey through the continent's history of independence and liberation. From the radical political and social reordering of the mid-late 1950s to 1994, the era of change was vividly captured in the African Cultural Renaissance section. Music, visual arts, protest posters, publications, and records showcased the creative spirit that thrived amidst political frustration, including iconic works from the Mbari Club and Fela Kuti's "Beasts of No Nation" album.
The Politics and Poetics of Cloth section revealed the strategic significance of indigenous cloths during moments of independence, with wax prints, àdìrẹ, kente, and bògòlanfini showcasing the rich textile history of Africa. Notable among them was a commemorative cloth featuring Nelson Mandela, symbolising a "Better Life for All" as South Africa's first Black President, a powerful testament to the role of cloth as a form of expression and activism.
In its deliberate curation, the exhibition painted a poignant picture of how African fashion has been intertwined with politics, culture, and identity, leaving me captivated by the depth and significance of each showcased piece.
The Vanguard section celebrated the first generation of African designers who gained global attention throughout the continent. The rise and impact, creative process, and inspirations of iconic designers such as Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, Alphadi, and Naïma Bennis were traced through real stories from those who loved and wore their distinctive designs. It was awe-inspiring to see how these designers brought African fashion to the forefront of the global fashion scene, blending traditional African aesthetics with modern styles and techniques.
The exhibition also delved into the world of portrait photography in the mid-late 20th century with the Capturing Change section. The democratisation of photography during the period of decolonization resulted in a wealth of portraits that captured the modernity, cosmopolitanism, and fashion consciousness of individuals at the brink of self-rule. The portraits by photographers such as Sanlé Sory, Michel Papami Kameni, Rachidi Bissiriou, and James Barnor were a testament to the agency and self-representation of Black and African people, showcasing their pride in their culture and identity.
On the mezzanine level, the exhibition celebrated the new generation of ground-breaking designers, collectives, stylists, and fashion photographers working in Africa today. The Minimalism section featured contemporary designs by Rwandan fashion house Moshions, known for re-imagining traditional Rwandan forms and cultural motifs into contemporary pieces. The Mixology section showcased ensembles from IAMISIGO's Spring/Summer 2019 collection, which drew inspiration from West African masquerade costumes and cultural traditions of adornment. The Artisanal section featured the work of NKWO, who collaborate with small-scale artisan makers across Africa specialising in crafts such as hand dyeing, weaving, beading, and embroidery.
One of the most striking aspects of the Africa Fashion exhibition is its emphasis on the significance of cloth as a medium of expression, resistance, and identity in African cultures. From traditional handwoven textiles to contemporary fabrics with symbolic meanings, the exhibition delves into the stories, techniques, and cultural significance of African textiles. It also sheds light on the emergence of African designers on the global stage, the power of portrait photography to challenge stereotypes, and the innovative approaches of the new generation of fashion creatives. Africa Fashion offers a nuanced and multifaceted perspective on African fashion, showcasing its deep-rooted traditions, modern adaptations, and global influence. With its informative displays, personal testimonies, and reverential approach to African fashion, the exhibition pays homage to the ingenuity, vitality, and unstoppable global impact of African fashion, making it a must-visit for fashion enthusiasts and anyone interested in the rich cultural heritage of Africa.
Check out the article from the V&A for more information on the exhibition