African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style introduces visitors to a dynamic and diverse African dress tradition and the increasingly interconnected fashion worlds that it inhabits: “popular” African-print styles created by local seamstresses and tailors across the continent; international runway fashions designed by Africa’s newest generation of couturiers; and boundary-breaking, transnational, and youth styles favored in Africa’s urban centers. All feature the colorful, boldly designed, manufactured cotton textiles that have come to be known as “African-print cloth.”
From formal portraiture to visual arts to ubiquitous African fashion calendars to street style photos shared by cellphone, it is clear that representations of fashion have always been a nuanced form of communication. Fashion subtly communicates about place, heritage, and belonging through such means as appropriation, pastiche, and revival. Throughout the exhibition, African-print fashions are considered to be creative responses to key historical moments and empowering projections about Africa’s future.
The exhibition includes 60 tailored fashions, 100 archival and contemporary cloths, 20 black-and-white studio portrait photographs from the 1960s and 1970s, a series of runway videos, and seven works by contemporary visual artists. Ensembles on view draw from the Fowler Museum at UCLA’s collections, private loans, and the extensive archives of the Dutch textile manufacturing company Vlisco.
The exhibition tells the global stories of these textiles—the early history of the print cloth trade in West and Central Africa, the expansion of production following independence movements, and the increasing popularity of Asian-made print cloth today. Popular African styles from Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Senegal are featured, as well as groundbreaking runway fashions by some of Africa’s most talented couturiers: Ituen Basi, Gilles Touré, Lanre da Silva Ajayi, Titi Ademola, Lisa Folawiyo, Dent de Man, Adama Paris, Patricia Waota, Ikiré Jones, and Afua Dabanka. Black-and-white studio portraits illuminate print fashions of the 1960s and 1970s, while works by contemporary artists incorporate African print to convey evocative messages about heritage, hybridity, displacement, and aspiration.
Contemporary photographs by Omar Victor Diop, Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, and Hassan Hajjaj; paintings by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga; and a mural by graffiti artist Docta suggest the ever-present role of fashion in African life. Throughout the exhibition, African-print fashions are considered as creative responses to key historical moments and the imaginings of Africa in the future.
African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in association with Vlisco Netherlands B.V. It is guest curated by Suzanne Gott with Kristyne S. Loughran, Betsy D. Quick, and Leslie W. Rabine. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts with the additional support of R.L. Shep, DutchCulture, and the Pasadena Art Alliance.