Exhibiting Africa

African fashion has been trending lately. No, not its prints, its motifs or its textiles. But instead, the continent’s new wave of contemporary creatives.

Several exhibitions around the world have been taking place to showcase Africa with a fresh perspective. Three exhibitions of note stretch from England, Germany, France, and the US. What they all have in common is an unexpected portrait of Africa.

Fashion Cities Africa, The Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

INSTALLATION: Fashion Cities Africa
INSTALLATION: Fashion Cities Africa

The Fashion Cities Africa exhibition is the first of its kind in the UK, with its primary focus on contemporary African fashion. The exhibition launched on the 30th of April, and will extend to the following year, until the 8th of January 2017.

INSTALLATION: Fashion Cities Africa
INSTALLATION: Fashion Cities Africa

This exhibition explores Africa’s four compass points of contemporary fashion: Johannesburg, Lagos, Casablanca and Nairobi.

Understanding the stylistic nuances, influences and ‘style choices’ of the continent’s contemporaries are at its core. The exhibition’s curators worked alongside stylists, designers, photographers and bloggers who hail from the four main cities.

From Johannesburg, the exhibition will include designers: Maria McCloy, Thula Sindi and Marianne Fassler, and street style bloggers, Kabelo Kungwane, Wanda Lephoto and Xzavier Zulu of The Sartists.

“We’re thrilled that Marianne Fassler is visiting the exhibition on Friday 27 May 2016 and will be talking to our visitors about the garments designed by her that feature in the show,” says Helen Mears, the exhibition’s curator.

She adds, “We’re also excited about the possibility of The Sartists visiting Brighton this September, as part of a UK visit being supported by the British Council. We hope that the exhibition will start a debate about some of the exciting developments in contemporary fashion emerging from the African continent. And [we] hope that the kinds of dialogues we’re creating through the exhibition, the publication and through our events programme, will enable these debates to be sustained.”

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The exhibition is also complemented by a book that was researched and written by Hannah Azieb Pool, in which the writer delves further into the “fashion practices” of contemporaries in each of the featured cities. For those who seek a newly-fashioned Africa, this is one exhibition to see.

INSTALLATION: Fashion Cities Africa
INSTALLATION: Fashion Cities Africa

Creating Fashion Histories Conference, The Brighton Museum & Art Gallery:

In addition to the above exhibition, the Brighton Museum will also be hosting the Creating Fashion Histories Conference. Erica de Greef, a PHD scholar from the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town,  will be contributing her expert knowledge on South African fashion. De Greef has kept an inquisitive eye on the subtle and obvious changes that have taken place in the local fashion industry.

De Greef’s research, which often verges upon “the edges and the avant-garde” is inspired by her “drive to articulate (make public knowledge) the interesting and important stories coming from South Africa that need to be recorded, re-written, recognised, realised,” she says.

De Greef will be among well-known authors and academics who have been invited to speak at the conference. These speakers have all “contributed to the slow but sure transformation of African fashion critique and acceptance beyond the frameworks of exotic other, anthropological gaze, and timeless tradition,” says De Greef.

Having spent many years researching the fashion industry from an academic stance, De Greef is well-positioned to “speak from local experience and local perspectives.”

The conference will take place on the 2nd of November this year.

Nataal: New African Photography Exhibition, Red Hook Labs

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One of South Africa’s foremost fashion insiders has been busy – in Brooklyn. Helen Jennings is the curator behind the Nataal New African Photographers Exhibition at the Red Hook Labs. In addition to assisting with research for the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition in Brighton, above, Jennings has also extended her knowledge across the pond.

The exhibition showcased the visual portfolios of six photographers across the African continent. Each photographer explored their own narratives through various themes and different forms of photography, such as portraiture, fashion and documentary images. These graphic variations were applied “as a means of dispelling clichés and myths spun by traditional reportage photography and as a way to inspire visitors to want to know more about the tastemakers coming out of Africa today,” says Jennings.

Jennings’ understanding of Africa fashion, its key players and the progressive shifts that are taking place in the fashion industry, undoubtedly make her a leading voice in the African fashion industry.

The Nataal exhibition focuses on snapshots that convey “the huge diversity of Africa’s visual language today.”

The exhibition was on show between the 7th and 15th of May 2016. Below are three of the photographers that were featured at the exhibition.

Namsa Leuba "is interested in the representation of African identity through the Western imagination, informed by her own mixed race heritage (Guinean/Swiss)"
Namsa Leuba
“Namsa Leuba is  interested in the representation of African identity through the Western imagination, informed by her own mixed race heritage (Guinean/Swiss).”
Atong Atem "Atong Atem is a young artist from South Sudan by way of Melbourne. Her work explores postcolonial practices in the diaspora and the relationship between public and private spaces."
Atong Atem
“Atong Atem is a young artist from South Sudan by way of Melbourne. Her work explores postcolonial practices in the diaspora and the relationship between public and private spaces.”
Lakin Ogunbanwo "Lakin Ogunbanwo from Lagos creates enigmatic images with an erotic and subversive undertone that bridge both fashion photography and classical portraiture. "
Lakin Ogunbanwo
“Lakin Ogunbanwo from Lagos creates enigmatic images with an erotic and subversive undertone that bridge both fashion photography and classical portraiture. “

African Catwalk, Per-Anders Pettersson 

African Catwalk is both an exhibition and a book (see our book review). Strong and voyeuristic visuals from the book reveal intimate behind-the-scenes photography from several Fashion Week events across the continent. The man behind the camera – Per-Anders Pettersson- has been to every notable fashion event on the continent, building a portfolio of African fashion imagery from country to country. “The images are taken of around 40 fashion weeks around Africa, [between] 2010 and 2015,” says Pettersson.

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The complementary book was written by leading industry figures such as fashion designer, Stella Jean; photo editor of Vogue Italia and L’Uomo, Allessia Glaviano; and African fashion strategist, Allana Finley.

Images from the exhibition have been on show at Der Spiegel in Germany, and at the VSD in France.

The book will be released in South Africa in July.

Catwalk-Cover_160425-BELI.indd

What are your thoughts on the above exhibitions? 

Are there other exhibitions that you think The Insider should know about?