Africa Fashion Exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum – A Joyful Celebration of Africa’s Finest.

2nd July 2022 – 16th April 2023

Kofi Ansah ‘Indigo’ Couture 1997 – Narh & Linda – Photo © 1997 Eric Don-Arthur

By Fadhila Kambona

The V&A’s ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition in London,  calls attention to the roots of some of the most impactful fashion trends today. Showcasing a selection of contemporary and mid-20th century designs, the gallery triumphs in acknowledging the inherent versatility of African creatives.

Championing the works of African designers from across the diaspora, artists such as Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi, dispel the myth that African culture has remained at the sidelines of global trends with a vibrant display of their innovative creations in garments, textiles and patterns.

A massive project, spanning two floors and featuring creations from 45 designers from across 20 different nations; Dr Christine Checinska, Senior Curator; African and African Diaspora: Textiles and Fashion, keeps visitors inspired and enlightened.

Models holding hands, Lagos, Nigeria-2019 by Stephen Tayo. Courtesy, Lagos Fashion Week.

Divided into sections of genre, style and the technique, Dr Checinska charts the major fashion moments. The result is a comprehensive study of the interplay between globalisation and the developments in African textiles, fashion and photography. 

A central theme is the connection between the Pan-Africanist movement and its impact on fashion. Though unusual for a style focused exhibition to acknowledge the influence of socio political movements, Africa Fashion recognises the liberating effects of the nationalist movements and tributes the great Kwame Nkrumah and Mandela as the original influencers. 

A popular part of the exhibition is the space dedicated to textiles and weave-making. Located at the entrance, it sets the mood for the rest of the show with music and video installations of famous cat-walks. The print-making section takes the visitor back to the techniques used to craft traditional garments. Rich patterns such as the iconic Kente print are deconstructed to show their complexity and then re-imagination by contemporary designers . 

MAXHOSA AFRICA, IAMISIGO, Imane Ayissi.

A fine example of the cross cutting influences on fashion is the couturier Imane Ayissi whose philosophy to bring cultures together, is applied to his designs. He aims to unify and paint a more accurate depiction of the creatives and free-thinkers working in the industry today. Ayissi’s inspirations have utilised the skills he learned from his time in Paris.  He makes elegant pieces that combine patterns, silhouettes and textures. His works showcase a perception that is outside of the traditional stereotypes about African Fashion. 

Recognising that African fashion is not a broad monolith, Curator Dr Christine Checinska said:

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.”

For this, the V&A’s exhibition has surpassed its aim and created a meaningful yet joyful celebration of Africa and its finest works!

Alchemy collection, Thebe Magugu, Johannesburg, South Africa, AutumnWinter 2021. Photography by Tatenda Chidora. Styling and Set by Chloe Andrea Welgemoed. Model, Sio.

The African Fashion exhibition is open until 16th April 2023. For more information visit : https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/africa-fashion

Africa Fashion is supported by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, GRoW @ Annenberg .

With additional support from Bank of America and Merchants on Long.

With thanks to Africa Fashion Foundation

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