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.
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.
“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