20 Jan 2021
V&A Africa Fashion Exhibition: Call Out
‘We face forward’ – Kwame Nkrumah, 7 April 1960
Today we share our plans to stage Africa Fashion, our first exhibition to focus on the African fashion scene; a scene that is as eclectic and varied, diverse and dynamic as its people. We are scheduled to open in June 2022 and will run until April 2023.
Our Africa Fashion exhibition tells a story of fashion as a self-defining art form; a kind of movement culture that goes beyond individual garments to encompass attitude, gesture, style. The route into this visually compelling narrative will be mapped through an essential overview of the African independence and liberation years, the mid-to-late 1950s to 1994. The radical social and political re-ordering that took place sparked a cultural renaissance across the continent, laying the foundation for today’s fashion revolution. Fashion, music and the visual arts drew on formerly marginalised traditions, creating new forms that looked towards future self-rule with an unforgettable independence of spirit.
Photo by Fabrice Malard courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum
In 1960 alone, over 17 African countries declared independence from colonial rule. It soon became known as the Year of Africa. This era signalled a re-awakening. It heralded a new sense of pride in being black-skinned and African. These were heady days. Our exhibition seeks to embody this sense of exuberance and hope that is best captured by the words of the then president of newly independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972), quoted above.
Since joining the V&A in June last year as the museum’s inaugural Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion, I have been actively researching African fashion creatives from the corners of the continent and across the fashion spectrum with a view to showing works in Africa Fashion. Being a member of the African diaspora myself and having worked as a designer in the British fashion industry for over three decades, this process has been an absolute joy. From contemporary couture, ready-to-wear, made-to-order to street-style sartorialists, we will offer a glimpse of the glamour and politics of the African fashion scene.
Shade Thomas at desk, 1970s – photo courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum
We will share a close-up look at leading twentieth century designers such as Kofi Ansah, Chris Seydou, Shade Thomas-Fahm and Alphadi. Jumping forward, we will present the work of a selection of new ground-breaking designers, collectives, stylists and fashion photographers working in Africa today. And we will explore how the digital world, the playground of Generation Z, has accelerated the expansion of the industry, irreversibly transforming global fashions as we know them. From glocal (local and global) fashion weeks to celebrity wearers and the role of social media and blogging, Africa Fashion will celebrate and champion the vitality and ingenuity of an influential twenty-first century scene.
Strategically, my approach is to allow African fashion creatives to speak for themselves about themselves. Conversation is important. Listening is key. I see myself as a facilitator; someone that allows others to speak. As a writer I have spent the last 20 years examining the relationship between fashion, culture and race. One thing that I have learnt is the power of creating space for others to be heard. Through my work at the V&A, I aim to provide a platform for new, layered stories about the richness and diversity of African cultures and histories, using fashion as a catalyst. Fashion is part of the way in which individual and collective histories can be remembered vividly and brought to life. Furthermore, identities that are always in flux can be refashioned through the drape of an iro, the fold of a gele, or the cut of a man’s bespoke suit. In this exhibition we will display pieces and stories drawn from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-twentieth century and contemporary African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from our collection – many for the first time.
Larry Jay Summer 2021 Collection
Museums are not only about objects, they are also about people. This is where you come in. Help us tell this irresistible story of unbounded creativity, agency and self-fashioning. Check attics, trunks, family photo albums and home movies for the chance to feature in our exhibition. Please get in touch if you have any of the following items or similar:
- Rare and early designs by Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi
- 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini by Chris Seydou
- Twentieth century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga, asafo flags and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years that connect to personal stories
- Family portraits and home movies from the independence and liberation years showing African and African diasporic fashion trends of the day
- Made-to-order garments, including aso ebi, co-created by local tailors, dressmakers and their clients, worn at festivals or to mark significant personal milestones, from 2010 onwards
- Copies of Drum Magazine from 1950 – 1970
Be part of our ongoing conversation. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion
Written by: Christine Checinska
Header Image: Larry Jay – Spring/Summer 2021 collection