LONDON — New details have been revealed ahead of the July 2 opening of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s major exhibition “Africa Fashion,” which aims to highlight the continent’s global impact and “spark a renegotiation of the geography of fashion,” according to Christine Checinska, the museum’s senior curator of African and African diaspora textiles and fashion.
More than 250 objects will be showcased, about half of them drawn from the museum’s collection, including 70 new acquisitions. The exhibition will feature stories behind the pieces alongside personal insights from the designers, together with sketches, editorial spreads, photographs, film and catwalk footage.
The selections will represent 45 designers from more than 20 countries across the continent. A selection of garments to be on display will come from the personal archives of a group of mid-20th-century African designers — Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi, marking the first time their work will be shown in a London museum.
The exhibition will also highlight influential contemporary African fashion creatives including Imane Ayissi, IAmIsigo, Moshions, Thebe Magugu and Sindiso Khumalo.
The South Africa-based Magugu, winner of the LVMH Prize in 2019, said documenting and showcasing the history and culture of his kind visually is important to the fashion industry, which is often criticized for a lack of diversity.
“It’s so often that our story has been told by other people and I feel like now more than ever, African designers are really in charge of their own narrative and telling people authentic stories. Not these sort of imagined utopias,” he added.
Artsi, the Morocco-based designer behind Maison ArtC, who designed a piece specifically for the exhibition, thinks that “’Africa Fashion’ means the past, the future and the present at the same time. The joy of life and the joy of color are completely different and very particular to the continent.”
Omoyemi Akerele, founder of Lagos Fashion Week and Style House Files, believes that African fashion reaches far beyond the designers.
“There’s a whole ecosystem. There are models and makeup artists, photographers, illustrators. Imagine bringing everybody’s work to life season in, season out, bringing fashion that is created by our people for our people, and for the benefits of growing and developing our economy. What could be even more special than that?”
Checinska told WWD in an earlier interview that she adopted an open, collaborative approach to the curation of the exhibition.
The museum made a public callout last year to anyone who has clothes by Sydou, Ansah or Thomas-Fahm, personal testimonies to share, family portraits, or made-to-order garments that showcase African and African diasporic fashion from the years of African independence to the modern day.
The results of the callout are photography from 10 families, an Alphadi dress of cotton and brass gifted to the museum by the designer and the new piece from Maison ArtC.
“The exhibition provides a great opportunity to re-frame some of our historic textiles within the context of contemporary fashion.…We wanted to capture personal stories that bring the exhibits to life. The foregrounding of multiple African perspectives and voices is a key guiding principle that informs all aspects of ‘Africa Fashion,’” she added.