This vibrant and celebratory exhibition highlights how much there is to be appreciated about how fashion has evolved in Africa and actually leaves the visitor wanting more.
‘Fashion allows us to show the continent in the way we know it’ – words spoken by Awa Meité in 2020 and placed on a wall as part the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition, exploring the history behind African fashion and the way it has evolved and this exhibition more than lives up to those words.
There is a sense of pride that runs through this excellently curated exhibition that is as educational and informative as it is a celebration of part of fashion history that is perhaps sadly too often overlooked. Beginning with African independence and liberation years from the mid-late 1950s – 1994, revealing the influence of music, literature and politics had on helping establishing a sense of identity and celebrating it that is clearly a key part of the way in which the industry in Africa has developed, before exploring how photography helped to establish the importance of fashion in Africa ion a wider scale and finally putting forward a strong argument as to how African fashion embraces inclusivity.
There is a real sense of pride that runs through this display, which could use just a bit more space to really allow the exhibition to breathe a little bit more – but the overall impact is that you are left wanting more and to find out more about many of the designers whose work is shown to great effect – including that of Naima Bennis and Kofi Ansah for example whose work as with so many of the designers combine traditional elements of their country’s history with a modern twist to give it a fresh feel.
From fabrics to colours to patterns used, there is plenty of attention to detail paid, making it an extremely educational, vibrant and exciting experience throughout. Although it would be fair to say that some of the sections feel as though they could have been expanded on had there been more room – but as curator Christine Checinska said in the forward at the beginning of the exhibition “it is a stepping stone towards a more inclusive and equitable V&A that reflects the fullest range of creative endeavour” and it is an effective stepping stone indeed.
Every piece that has been selected for this exhibition showcases this dazzling variety to be found in Africa’s fashion – from the electric pink raffia 2019 couture outfit by Imane Ayissi all the way through to an exciting array of outfits on the top level of the exhibition that highlight the stunning way that African designers continue to push boundaries and prove that globally we should be sitting up and paying more attention to their work. There is sheer passion and dedication on display thanks to the thoughtful way in which Africa Fashion has been curated.
If like me, you are unaware of just how dazzling African fashion can be then you will need to pay a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum as soon as possible.It is a rare thing that an exhibition will leave you wanting more and I hope that each of the designers whose work is on display here will get their very own individual V&A exhibition at some stage – all of them are worthy of it.
By Emma Clarendon
Africa Fashion is on display at the V&A until the 16th April 2023.