African Fashion Exhibition @ The V&A
Julia Burrows August 2022
“Contemporary fashion creatives are shifting the geography of global fashion the vitality of the scene is irrepressible, its creativity limitless. Now, Africa fashion shares a glimpse of the glamour and politics of this influential scene that always changing always resisting definition “ V&A Museum, London
On route to our Textile Skills Centre Associate’s AGM, Dawn and I took time out to visit our favourite Museum the V&A. Having grown up in South Africa, I was particularly keen to see the exhibition on African fashion.
What are the first words that pop in to your head when you think of African fashion? For me it would be colour and diversity, this exhibition bid not disappoint.
Africa is a large continent with various cultures. It is approxmately 5,000 miles from North to South and 4,600 miles from East to West, made up of 55 countries, where some have more than one historical traditional costume and cultural past. Understandably, this exhibition cannot cover it all and which it has not attempted to do. The exhibition touches on the history, but dominantly celebrates African design and designers.
“1960 was the year of Africa. Over seventeen countries rid themselves of colonial rule and new sense of pride in being African played out through literature, music, art and fashion. The radical social and political reordering galvanised decades” V&A Museum, London
A shocking pink raffia garment by Imane Ayssi(2019), set the tone of the exhibition as you enter, followed by a brief history of African textiles.
Here you also see the work of Shade Thomas Fahm, a St Martins graduate in the 1950s, who is seen as Nigeria’s 1st fashion designer.
The 2nd floor of exhibition celebrates the new African contemporary designers. Starting with the minimalist designs of Rwandan Brand Mmusomaxwell. It shows pleat fronted suiting and simple structured dress with an example of the pattern plate used for the print.
A colourful and playful combination of fabrics is a strong visual language of African fashion which can be seen under the heading Mixologist.
There is a lot to see in this exhibition and my personal favourite is the multi coloured dress that for me captured Africa. From Dakar, by Selly Raby Kane from her 2017 collection.
‘Africa Fashion means the past, the future and the present at the same time. The joy of life and the joy of colour is completely different and very particular to the continent. It’s a language of heritage, it’s a language of DNA, it’s a language of memories.’ Artsi, Fashion Designer, Maison ArtC
The exhibition also celebrates the politics and poetics of cloth, through moments of political importance in the country.
The significance of how the making and wearing of particular cloths in the moment of independence became a strategic political act. Indigenous fabrics and crafts such as wax prints, commemorative cloths, àdìrẹ, kente and bògòlanfini are examples of a rich textile history from across the continent. The commemorative cloth made in the early 1990s following the release of Nelson Mandela, is featured showing a portrait of the soon-to-be first Black President of South Africa with the words:
“A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL – WORKING TOGETHER FOR JOBS, PEACE AND FREEDOM”.
I left the collection of talented and interesting designs, inspired and hoping the V&A Museum would bring us more from this often forgotten continent.
The Exhibition run until 16 April 2023 and cost £16.
Book tickets to see Africa Fashion from 2 July 2022 – 16 April 2023.