The Brooklyn Museum is hosting a powerful new exhibition of African works that showcases the continent as the fashion capital of the world, brimming with creativity, ingenuity and a unique aesthetic heritage. Entitled “Africa fashion“, the exhibition will run until October 22, 2023, and will showcase an immensity of shimmering artistic and sartorial works, highlighting the talented designers and artists of this new era of African fashion.
The “Africa Fashion” event offers an exclusive contemporary perspective on the African art world, covering a period from the 1950s to the present day. Over 300 works will be on display in this art space, offering an admiring look at the evolution of artistic practice from the era of independence to the present day. Through an immersive panorama of inspiring colors and patterns, these works invite visitors to contemplate the splendor of African talent. Beyond the breathtaking fantasy looks presented on mannequins, the masterpieces by exceptional designers and creators highlight the diverse artistic perceptions stemming from Africa and its diaspora. This approach has laid the captivating historical foundations for today’s stylistic revolution.
The Brooklyn Museum is the first art institution to expose African art to a North American audience, making it the ideal venue to host an exhibition of this scale. The exhibition has already been launched at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2022, before being transported to the Brooklyn Museum. The creations of American authors such as Aurora James and Christopher John Rogers, who were inspired by Africa, were then added to the artistic presentation. The exhibition was also adapted to its new environment to offer a unique experience to the public.
This year’s “Africa Fashion” at the Contemporary American Art Space is second to none. It represents one of the most important collections of African art in the United States, and offers a unique visual insight into a special blend of African and diasporic identity with an American twist. For this exceptional occasion of unveiling African prestige and contemporary creativity, curators Ernestine White-Mifetu and Annissa Malvoisin have assembled an extensive collection of objects encompassing fashion and textiles, as well as artworks, jewelry, photographs and videos, magazine covers, vintage posters and other ephemera.
The awakening of African artistic practice was initiated by the succession of African countries’ independence. The fall of the colonialist system marked the beginning of a new era involving radical reinvention of the self. This awakening heralded a stirring cultural renaissance that spilled over into all the arts. Artists and creators have taken this painful past, with its once-marginalized traditions, and created a new, innovative art form rich in color, pattern and, above all, history.
A series of festivals has been organized since this continental freedom, enabling the continent to maintain a certain inspiring dynamic for the future. These include the FESTAC festival, bringing together almost all the nations of Africa and its diaspora. This meeting through the arts has helped to build and electrify pan-African unity. The first section of the “Africa fashion” exhibition looks at this part of African artistic evolution, where textiles were seen as an expressive language for communicating hope in a radiant post-colonial future.
The second part of the exhibition showcases the wealth of textile traditions in Africa’s regions, including indigo-dyed àdìrẹ, silk kente, mud-painted bògòlanfini, raffia-woven kuba and strip-woven aṣọ-òkè, among others, and their uses in the visual arts of modern Africa. In this section of the exhibition, you’ll find Atta Kwami’s Another Time (2011), featuring color blocks inspired by Ghana’s kente tradition, as well as geometric patterns painted on canvas by South African artist Esther Mahlangu, who drew inspiration from the visual lexicon of the Ndebele heritage. Of course, this collection of textile works exploring the influence of textiles and African history would be incomplete without a contemporary sculpture by Yinka Shoniba.
From this diversity of textile materials emerged a group of couturiers and tailors who went on to become the modern fashion designers of the 20th century. Five of these talented artists will be featured in the “Africa fashion” exhibition. They are Alphadi from Mauritania, Chris Seydou from Mali, Kofi Ansah from Ghana, Naïma Bennis from Morocco and Shade Thomas-Fahm from Nigeria. Most of the outfits presented are an aesthetic and innovative blend of African and Western styles, offering a fresh perspective on artistic contemporary fashion. The work of Thomas-Fahm, the first designer to open a boutique in Nigeria, reflects this forward-looking vision of fashion. After a trip to Great Britain, she drew inspiration from the discoveries made in the designer’s house, transplanting some modern styles to her couture, such as wrap skirts, integrated fastenings and many others.
The most important section of the “Africa Fashion” exhibition is devoted exclusively to photography. Since the invention of the camera, this medium has played a key role in African artistic life. As curator White-Mifetu explains: “We wanted to show the importance of the camera in the expression of style by individuals newly free to imagine, dress and interpret their identity. Expressive, striking photographs by a number of renowned artists are on show, including Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop, Kwame Braithwaite, Hassan Hajjaj and many others.
The “Africa Fashion” exhibition is a final showcase of contemporary African looks, bringing current African fashion to the forefront of the world art scene as a great synthesis of influences and communities. Sections dealing with African spirituality and ancestral relationships are also built into the museum. The centerpiece, by Artsi Ifrach for Maison ArtC, symbolizes an Islamic representation of belief. It’s a unique burqa made from sheer crinoline in the style of a European trench coat. The Alchemy collection by renowned South African designer Thebe Magugu also forms part of this section of the exhibition.
Through this grandiose presentation, the innovation and creativity of contemporary African artists are highlighted to offer a better perception of African artistic practice. With this in mind, White-Mifetu declares: “I hope the exhibition will challenge viewers’ perception of African fashion. Whether through the visual arts, music or fashion, Africa’s contribution to global debate is rich and long-standing.“