The V&A Museum presents the “collective power” of African fashion

Written by Tom Bouchier-Hayes, CNNLondon

The Africa Fashion exhibition at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London is creating a buzz.

The event, which opens on July 2 and spans two floors, is a fascinating mix of fashion from the mid-20th century to the present day, told through photography, film, magazines and models.

It showcases the work of 45 designers from over 20 countries and features more than 250 exhibits, 70 of which are new acquisitions. Starting from the period when many African nations were declaring their independence, the exhibition examines the role played by fashion in the cultural renaissance of the continent.

Over 50 models were dressed in exquisite outfits showcasing the creative spirit of Africa. It’s colorful and fun, but there’s a purpose.

“I think for us, fashion is a kind of catalyst through which we can give people a glimpse into the myriad of histories and cultures of the continent,” said Christine Checinska, the senior curator. “It’s also what we hope people will take away – just the thrill and taste of the potential of African creativity.”

“There is a real sense of collective power and a sense of pan-Africanism despite the differences,” she added.

The exhibition showcases the work of some of the most important names in the development of African fashion, including Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm, who is often described as Nigeria’s first modern designer.

A design by Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm, from the 1970s. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

After studying fashion in London in the 1950s, Thomas-Fahm returned to Nigeria and became known for using traditional textiles in her work. Her first forays into fashion came at the same time as independence movements sprung up across the continent.

“In the ’50s and ’60s there was kind of a confusion about who we were,” she told CNN last year. “Everything western was rented out and nobody seemed to care about our own locally produced materials. I never felt that.”

An archive of achievements

However, it’s the work of groundbreaking new designers that really catches the eye. Among the many contemporary designers featured at the exhibition is Nigerian Lisa Folawiyo, who created her own label 17 years ago. Speaking from Lagos, she said she was delighted to have been asked to participate.

“We’ve seen that around the world what we do has been well received and worn all over the world and I feel like it’s time for people to realize that African fashion is beyond (the continent). It’s just fashion for anyone, anywhere.”

These pieces by Lisa Folawiyo, on display at the Africa Fashion exhibition, feature a mix of contrasting patterns and colors.

These pieces by Lisa Folawiyo, on display at the Africa Fashion exhibition, feature a mix of contrasting patterns and colors. Credit: Chelsea Lee

His work is featured on the first floor of the exhibition, alongside pieces by multi-award winning South African designer Lukhanyo Mdingi. “It’s no secret that the V&A Museum is one of the most revered and respected museums in the world, and to be part of an exhibition that really looks at African designers is fantastic,” he said. he said from his studio in Cape Town.

He added that the exhibition will provide valuable testimony to the achievements in African craftsmanship and storytelling.

“It’s important that African designers and artists are celebrated in an exhibition like this because in the long run it’s about having an archive where people can come back and see, ‘this is what happened’. happened at that time.

Africa Fashion runs until April 16, 2023.

James C. Tibbs