Groundbreaking Africa Fashion exhibition opens at the V&A
Diversity is in, borders are out.
image Courtesy of the V&A
words Louis Staples
Fashion is for everyone, but we know by now that the fashion and culture industries don’t always give equal space to all. That’s why it’s so exciting that, more than 170 years after it was founded, the Victoria and Albert Museum will open its first African fashion exhibition this week.
Africa Fashion, which opens July 2nd, will feature designers who have worked with names including Beyoncé and architect David Adjaye. The exhibit will celebrate fashion from across the continent, showcasing designs, photographs and films from 25 of the 54 countries.
The V&A is a particularly interesting venue for this groundbreaking exhibit because its legacy is deeply entwined with Britain’s colonial past. Some of its most precious objects were acquired thanks to colonialism and British military campaigns across the world. Africa Fashion could be seen as part of an effort to acknowledge and unpack these histories, but also part of a move towards building a future where diverse exhibits are the norm.
Christine Checinska, the curator of African and African diaspora fashion at the V&A, said the exhibition was overdue. “It is a moment of transition that marks the commitment that we have to celebrate African creativity across the board,” she told The Guardian. The exhibition has taken over two years to bring to life, with the curator team consulting external experts, people from across the African diaspora and an intergenerational community panel. The designers were also involved in choosing how their work was displayed. Africa Fashion is divided into two parts: the downstairs covers historical outfits and images from the 1950s onwards, while contemporary designers and photography are showcased upstairs.
Of course, African aesthetics, and fashion have long been appropriated by white designers from European countries and the US. But Africa Fashion has chosen to focus purely on the work of African designers. “We’re centreing African creativity and we hope that people come in and they’re inspired, they want to go away and embrace and engage in a respectful way,” said Checinska.
Exhibitions like this can go a long way towards changing attitudes, educating and opening minds. China: Through the Looking Glass became the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most popular exhibit in years, breaking the record for museum visits previously held by Alexander McQueen retrospective Savage Beauty. The exhibit inspired 2015’s Met Gala theme (remember Rihanna’s iconic and much-memed ornate gown?) and the film The First Monday in May.
So really, the potential for Africa Fashion is limitless.