Fashion

V&A announces major landmark exhibition Africa Fashion: Can you help? Public call-out for garments

Imane A yissi, Designer, said: “This exhibition is a great initiative; it will be one of the first to bring an histo rical perspective on African fashion and it will show the rest of the world that African points of view on fashion and beauty didn’t start yesterday.”

V&A reveals plans to stage a major exhibition celebrating the irresistible creativity, ingenuity and unstoppable global impact of contemporary African fashions. Opening June 2022, the exhibition will celebrate the vitality and innovation of this vibrant scene, as dynamic and varied as the African continent itself. ( main image and below: Shade Thomas at desk 1970s. Image courtesy of Shade Thomas-Fahm)

Shade Thomas at desk 1970

Over 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-twentieth century and influential contemporary African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection will go on display – many for the first time. Starting with the African independence and liberation years that sparked a radical political and social reordering across the continent, the exhibition will look to explore how fashion, alongside music and the visual arts, formed a key part of Africa’s cultural renaissance, laying the foundation for today’s fashion revolution.

Dr Christine Checinska, Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion, said: Our guiding principle is the foregrounding of individual African voices and perspectives. The exhibition will present African fashions as a self-defining art form that reveals the richness and diversity of African histories and cultures. 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.

Across contemporary couture, ready-to-wear, made-to-order and street-style, the V&A will also seek to offer a close-up look at the new generation of ground-breaking designers, collectives, stylists and fashion photographers working in Africa today. The V&A will explore how the digital world accelerated the expansion of the industry, irreversibly transforming global fashions as we know them. From global fashion weeks to celebrity wearers and the role of social media and blogging, the exhibition will celebrate and champion the diversity and ingenuity of the continent’s fashion scene.

Credit: Paolo Soriani – Kofi Ansah

Shade Thomas-Fahm (b.1933), Chris Seydou (1949 – 1994), Kofi Ansah (1951-2014), Alphadi (b.1957) and their peers represent the first generation of African designers to gain attention throughout the continent and globally. Marking the first moment in which their work will be shown in a London museum, the V&A will trace their rise and impact, their creative process and inspirations, brought to life by real stories from those who loved and wore their distinctive designs.

The public call-out seeks to uncover personal testimonies from those who have worn their beloved garments. Items the V&A are seeking for the exhibition include:

  • Rare and early designs by Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi
  • 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini by Chris Seydou
  • Twentieth century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years that connect to personal stories
  • Family portraits and home movies from the independence and liberation years showing African and African diasporic fashion trends of the day
  • Made-to-order garments, including aso ebi, co-created by local tailors, dressmakers and their clients, worn at festivals or to mark significant personal milestones, from 2010 onwards 
  • Copies of the Drum Magazine from 1950-1970

The V&A will showcase these objects and the amazing stories behind them alongside personal insights from the designers, together with sketches, editorial spreads, photographs, film and catwalk footage.

Members of the public with objects that fit the above description are asked to get in touch by email at africafashion@vam.ac.uk, and to share their pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion

Dr Christine Checinska continues: “Help us tell this visually compelling story of unbounded creativity, agency and self-fashioning. Check attics, trunks, family photo albums and home movies for the chance to feature in our exhibition.”

Ryan Ansah, Joey Ansah & Tanoa Sasraku-Ansah, Founding Directors of the Kofi Ansah Foundation, said: “When Kofi Ansah was suddenly taken from us in 2014, not only did he leave behind a magnificent and prolific body of work, he also laid a roadmap for successive generations of African fashion designers to follow – through his creative use of textiles, his precise and exacting attention to detail and his absolute refusal to compromise his creative vision, dating all the way back to his time at Chelsea College of Art & Design. At the time of his passing he was a man still in the prime of his career, bringing his designs to the catwalks and boutiques of Rome, New York and Johannesburg, in addition to his significant contributions to growing Ghana’s textile industry and his partnership work with contemporaries across the African continent… the Foundation, in collaboration with Fashion Forum Africa, are delighted that his life and legacy are to be recognised and celebrated within the V&A’s ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition.”

The exhibition forms part of a broader and ongoing V&A commitment to grow the museum’s permanent collection of work by African and African Diaspora designers and to tell new layered stories about the richness and diversity of African creativity, cultures and histories, using fashion as a catalyst.

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