A young generation of African fashion designers is currently redefining “African” fashion and establishing innovative design hubs throughout Africa. This is not just about aesthetic aspects, but rather about a cultural and political commitment with a decidedly decolonial self-image. As part of the Connecting Afro Futures exhibition project, Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) has invited designers and artists from Uganda, Benin and Senegal to develop new works on the themes of fashion and hair. The results of this dynamic, intercontinental exchange can be seen in Berlin from 24 August 2019.
Fashion is a system of rules of its own and is regarded as a pacemaker of social change. Generation Now is currently breaking up the hegemony of the “western fashion system”: African culture should no longer serve only as a source of inspiration for Western fashion designers. Likewise, hair and with it “African” bodies were a central arena for the exercise of colonial power, disciplined, regulated and subjected to the Western ideal of beauty. The traditional African hair styles, which have thus almost fallen into oblivion, are once again being disseminated and made accessible today. At the same time, they are used self-confidently in the play with hair as an expression of creative identity formation while hair as an artistic material is increasingly coming to the fore. Against this background, the Kunstgewerbemuseum has invited several fashion designers and artists to reposition the themes of fashion and hair in a museum context with installation works.
The multi-stage project began in November 2018 at the Kunstgewerbemuseum with a joint one-week workshop on global fashion, museum and collection policy, and decolonial discourse. In March and April 2019, the first results were presented on site in Dakar and Kampala. In August 2019, the results of the project stations and collaborations will be played back to the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin.
In her mixed-media installation “The Perfect Stereotype”, Lamula Anderson (London/UK, Kampala/Uganda) draws a bow from historical women’s dresses with tournures to stereotypical color assignments in fashion and Afro. In her work “Barkcloth Connecting Afro Futures Using the Signs of the Now”, fashion designer José Hendo (London/UK, Kampala/Uganda) uses the traditional Ugandan material “bark-cloth” to address questions of sustainability in contemporary fashion. Bull Doff (Dakar/Senegal) are developing a multimedia work based on their current collection “54Punk”. In her installation “Shameless Afro Hair”, Adama Paris (Dakar/Senegal) questions beauty ideals and norms for hair and fashion in the African context. The artist Meschac Gaba (Cotonou/Benin) shows spectacular wig sculptures designed after Berlin architectural icons.
The exhibition is complemented by other works by artists such as Diana Ejaita (illustrator, Berlin/Germany), Njola Impressions (Kampala/Uganda), Tondo Clothing (Kampala/Uganda) and Ken Aicha Sy (Dakar/ Senegal) as well as fashion and music videos, photographs and illustrations. An accompanying program with artistic interventions, performances, workshops and roundtables rounds off the project.
Connecting Afro Futures. Fashion – Hair – Design is curated by Claudia Banz (Kunstgewerbemuseum – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Cornelia Lund (fluctuating images) and Beatrace Angut Oola (Fashion Africa Now).
The exhibition will be accompanied by a magalogue by Kerber Verlag, designed by Leni Charles (Vienna/Austria) and Maximilian Mauracher (Berlin). In addition to extensive visual material and fashion sections, the Magalog offers essays, statements and interviews by, among others, Claudia Banz, Sunny Dolat, Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Natasha A. Kelly, Cornelia Lund, Serubiri Moses, MwangiHutter, Simon Njami, Mazzi Odu, Beatrace Angut Oola, Jacqueline Shaw on fashion and hair in an African context.