Africa Fashion is a landmark exhibition celebrating the irresistible creativity, ingenuity and unstoppable global impact of contemporary African fashions. Opening on 2 July 2022, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibition will be the UK’s most extensive exhibition on African fashions to date, celebrating the vitality and innovation of this vibrant scene, as dynamic and varied as the continent itself.
Walking through the collection, during a special press preview earlier this week, it's obvious that the majority of the pieces embody an African aesthetic, one that we can envision immediately in our mind as made up of Ghanian Kente cloth, East African Khangas and West African wax prints. But surprisingly, there are pieces from North Africa and these include a beautiful cape by Maison ArtC, which features the words to Marianne Williamson's poem 'Our Deepest Fear' embroidered alongside different hamsa hands -- a sort of burka of hope, and designed by the Moroccan house especially for the exhibition.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." -- Marianne Williamson
Two bag brands from Egypt are also featured in Africa Fashion, and they are Reform Studio, by Hend Riad and Mariam Hazem and Okhtein by Aya and Mounaz Raouf. The latter are two sisters and aptly named their brand the word for "sisters" in Arabic. Reform Studio was born out of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the duo made a sustainable tote they call the 'Rebel' bag, out of strips from discarded plastic bags. Aya and Mounaz instead make opulent metallic handbags that reference Arabic cultures in their design. They call the long shape pictured below in gold and green versions a 'Felucca' clutch.
Over 250 objects will be on display for the exhibition, with approximately half of these drawn from the museum’s collection, including 70 new acquisitions. Many of the garments on show are from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-twentieth century African designers– Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi, marking the first time their work will be shown in a London museum.
Amine Bendriouich's Couture & Bullshit provided two djellabas, the traditional cape like long outfit from Morocco, one more masculine and traditional, the other more feminine and modern as can be seen below.
Dr Christine Checinska, Senior Curator African and African Diaspora: Textiles and Fashion, and lead curator of the Africa Fashion exhibition said: "Our guiding principle for Africa Fashion is the foregrounding of individual African voices and perspectives. The exhibition will present African fashions as a self-defining art form that reveals the richness and diversity of African histories and cultures. To showcase all fashions across such a vast region would be to attempt the impossible. Instead, Africa Fashion will celebrate the vitality and innovation of a selection of fashion creatives, exploring the work of the vanguard in the twentieth century and the creatives at the heart of this eclectic and cosmopolitan scene today. We hope this exhibition will spark a renegotiation of the geography of fashion and become a game-changer for the field."
The late Moroccan designer Naima Bennis also has a whole showcased dedicated to her dramatic outfits, like the cape photographed above which belongs to the V&A permanent collection. Bennis was well-known amongst Moroccan high society, especially in Rabat and Casablanca, before closing her boutique permanently in the late 1980's.
Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said during his welcoming address: "Africa Fashion allows us to continue the important work of understanding the contribution of Africa to the history of the Victoria and Albert Museum. But more importantly, it is emblematic of the museum's commitment to grow the perfect collection of works by African and African diaspora creatives in the coming years -- underrepresented within our collection." He continued, "through this long overdue showcase Africa Fashion is consciously celebrating the genius of African creativity in all its diversity and ingenuity."
The exhibition will also be accompanied by a wider public program focused on Africa Fashion, including in-conversations and talks, learning events, music performances and free to attend live events.
To book tickets, visit the V&A website.
All images courtesy of the V&A, used with permission.