An exhibition on African fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum will attempt to rethink the narrative about the continent, showing its independence and creativity after decades of false assumptions.
Africa Fashion opens on June 11, 2022 and will feature 250 objects that will tell the history of the continent through the work of its most prominent and influential designers.
“It will tell a story of limitless creativity and abundance,” said Christine Checinska, curator of African fashion and the African diaspora at the museum. “For me, that is very different from the stories we have heard about ‘lack’, when it comes to Africa.”
The continent’s fashion production has been clouded by false assumptions, according to Kimberly Jenkins, who runs the Fashion and Race database, an organization that aims to “decolonialize” fashion. “While there are regions that are in need due to war and poverty, the entire continent has often been misunderstood,” he said.
“There is the idea that Africa is neither capable nor equipped to showcase innovation or creative design. After centuries of colonization and political changes, during the last decades the continent was stereotyped as a land in perpetual need of charity. “
The exhibition has been in the works for two years and will feature the work of pioneering designers such as Kofi Ansah from Ghana, Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm and Alphadi from Nigeria, and Chris Seydou from Mali, who helped lay the groundwork for the scene. current.
“It is important to show that the African fashion scene did not appear overnight,” Checinska said. “This exhibition tells the story of the fashion scene that emerged from the independence years. It will be a game changer, because we will be talking about African fashion from an African perspective. “
Africa Fashion will also tell its story through other items, such as copies of the influential Drum Magazine (dating from 1950 to 1970) and kente, khanga, commemorative and bògòlanfini fabrics from the independence and liberation years, as well as home movies. and family portraits showing how fashion has changed.
Although the exhibition will not directly address the issue of the cultural appropriation of African culture by the West, it is a subject that will be addressed in other ways. “It’s quite a difficult topic to address through an exhibition,” Checinska said, “but we will address it at our partner events, such as podcasts and conferences.”
This won’t be the first time the V&A has focused on African fashion. In 2004 he held an acclaimed Black british style shows, curated by Carol Tulloch. Since that exhibition, a significant shift for emerging African fashion designers has been the move to digital. The ability to showcase their collections online has empowered the next generation of fashion designers.
“What we see in today’s fashion scene on the African continent is a story of self-representation, self-promotion and agency abundance, largely thanks to digital channels,” Checinska said. “The rest of the world has to take note of that.”
Jenkins added: “The year 2020 launched us into a new era in which digital literacy and familiarity with the digital landscape are necessary for social, economic, political and, in many ways, creative survival. The interconnectedness of our world and the democratization of having a ‘platform’ is helping to expand our awareness of the wealth of Africa. We are finally seeing Africa’s creativity in a substantial way. “