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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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