Tag: africa fashion

Of all the applied arts, fashion is arguably the most impactful.

Fashion blurs the line between the aesthetics of fine art and the functionality of contemporary craft, creating a tangible historical record in which we can hug the curves of cultural progression. Africa Fashion, now showing at the Portland Art Museum after much-heralded runs at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum in New York, is a glorious exploration of that premise through the lens of the African diaspora.

This exhibition feels particularly vital at this moment. While Western media paints a distortive picture of Black and queer Black life, each section of this exhibit disregards preconceived notions, showcasing creations infused with unapologetic visionary joy.

The exhibit welcomes visitors with video loops of models posing dynamically in avant-garde pieces, sparkling and fluttering with colors and textures that defy easy categorization. Up next? Vibrant fuchsia (or magenta, depending on how the lights hit it) raffia-fringed couture by designer Imane Ayissi. Both pieces make a clear declaration on style and culture, projecting precisely what type of energy visitors can anticipate coursing through the exhibit’s corridors.

From these first dynamic visual elements, Africa Fashion is a feast for the eyes, focusing on “abundance rather than lack,” as the exhibition’s curator Christine Checinska describes. The exhibit’s intimate first gallery explores “The Year of Africa” (1960), when 17 African Nations bucked colonial occupation and, as a result, amplified the African fashion industry internationally.

This gallery primes visitors for the intrinsic relationship between fashion and resistance as it relates to post-colonial Africa. From complex wax-dyed linens to extravagant political costumes glittering with finely woven gold threads, these works are a window into a wildly influential period of African art.

Couture performance costumes, crisp atelier-to-runway selections, and a peppering of contemporary accessories that embrace traditional

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When thinking about fashion, it’s sometimes easy to focus on superficial notions of trends, and of how clothing looks, not what it means. But anyone who attends “Africa Fashion,” the impressive exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, will come away dazzled by the creativity and vision of the designers, and with a sense of how the clothing on display reflects the complex, rich and wide-ranging history of the continent, and the cultural influences that have intermingled there.

“Africa Fashion” was created at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The Portland Art Museum show is the exhibition’s only West Coast stop. Christine Checinska, senior curator of African and Diaspora Textiles and Fashion, curated the exhibit, with Project Curator Elisabeth Murray. The exhibition was curated for Portland by Julia Dolan, the Portland Art Museum Minor White senior curator for photography.

As to how “Africa Fashion” came to make Portland its only West Coast destination, Checinska wrote in an email from London that, “We were keen to share ‘Africa Fashion’ with audiences in the West Coast and the V&A have had a long relationship with (the Portland Art Museum). There was a natural meeting of minds in terms of the desire to give audiences a glimpse of the glamour and politics of the African fashion scene, a scene as diverse and varied as the continent itself and indeed across Global Africa.”

The Africa Fashion exhibit at The Portland Art Museum

The “Africa Fashion” exhibit at The Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, continues through Feb. 18, 2024. Mark Graves/The Oregonian

As Checinska writes in the “Africa Fashion” catalogue, “the history of fashion in Africa, as everywhere, evolved from centuries of layered cross-cultural exchange, appropriation and transformation. Yet African fashions have been subjected to misrepresentation through the play of stereotypes that have historically presented African styles of dress either as unchanging,

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At the Brooklyn Museum, an electrifying new exhibition establishes Africa as a true fashion capital, bursting with imagination, ingenuity, and its own aesthetic heritage. “African Fashion” showcases the designers and other creatives leading the continent’s charge into the 21st century.

Yet the exhibition, which runs through October 22, is much more than a wondrous fantasia of eye-popping looks on mannequins. By highlighting key pieces from designers, artists, and artisans from the mid-20th century onward, it illuminates a panoply of artistic visions to come out of Africa and its diaspora, laying the fascinating historical groundwork for today’s stylistic revolution.

Left: A handwoven masquerade skirt by Studio One Eighty Nine, 2018. Right: A dress by Brooklyn designer Christopher John Rogers and a dress by Bull Doff, made of upcycled plastic objects found in Dakar, Senegal. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Left: A handwoven masquerade skirt by Studio One Eighty Nine, 2018. Right: A dress by Brooklyn designer Christopher John Rogers and a dress by Bull Doff, made of upcycled plastic objects found in Dakar, Senegal. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

It has been a century since the Brooklyn Museum became the first arts institution to showcase African art to a North American audience, making it an ideal spot for curators Ernestine White-Mifetu and Annissa Malvoisin to assemble over 300 objects, encompassing not only fashion and textiles, but jewelry, art, photography, and video, as well as vintage posters, magazine covers, and other ephemera. The museum has also partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library to make copies of the historic books on display in the show available to check out. It is, according to the museum, the largest presentation of its kind ever installed in a North American venue.

Installation view of "Africa Fashion." Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Installation view of “Africa Fashion.” Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

“Africa Fashion” launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2022, although it has benefited greatly from its expedition to Brooklyn. As co-curator Ernestine White-Mifetu explained during a tour, “It was important that we insert the narratives of creatives here in

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