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V&A Museum plans African fashion exhibition for 2022

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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London’s V&A Museum has announced that its major fashion exhibition opening in 2022 will celebrate the “irresistible creativity, ingenuity and unstoppable global impact of contemporary African fashions”.

The exhibition, entitled ‘Africa Fashion’ will be curated by Dr Christine Checinska, the museum’s new curator of African and African Diaspora fashion, and will celebrate the vitality and innovation of Africa’s vibrant fashion scene.

The museum added that the planned exhibition will form part of a broader and ongoing V&A commitment to grow the museum’s permanent collection of work by African and African Diaspora designers as it looks to tell “new layered stories” about the richness and diversity of African creativity, cultures and histories, using fashion as a catalyst.

Slated to open in June 2022, the V&A said that the exhibition aims to “spark a renegotiation of the geography of fashion” and will feature more than 250 objects drawn from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-twentieth century and influential contemporary African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection. Many of which will be on display for the first time.

Commenting on the exhibition, Checinska, said in a statement: “Our guiding principle is the foregrounding of individual African voices and perspectives. The exhibit will present African fashions as a self-defining art form that reveals the richness and diversity of African histories and cultures. 

“To showcase all fashions across such a vast region would be to attempt the impossible. Instead, Africa Fashion will celebrate the vitality and innovation of a selection of fashion creatives, exploring the work of the vanguard in the twentieth century and the creatives at the heart of this eclectic and cosmopolitan scene today. We hope this exhibition will spark a renegotiation of the geography of fashion and become a game-changer for the field.”

London’s V&A Museum to celebrate African fashion design with new exhibition

‘Africa Fashion’ will start with the African independence and liberation years that sparked a radical political and social reordering across the continent, exploring how fashion, alongside music and the visual arts, formed a key part of Africa’s cultural renaissance, laying the foundation for today’s fashion revolution.

The V&A said it seeks to offer a “close-up look at the new generation of ground-breaking designers, collectives, stylists and fashion photographers working in Africa today,” and will showcase contemporary couture, ready-to-wear, made-to-order and street-style.

The exhibition will also explore how the digital world accelerated the expansion of the fashion industry, as well as celebrate and champion the “diversity and ingenuity of the continent’s fashion scene”.

There will be a focus on the works of designers such as Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, and Alphadi, who the museum says represent the first generation of African designers to gain attention throughout the continent and globally. This exhibition will also mark the first time their work will be shown in a London museum, and the V&A added that they will trace their rise and impact, their creative process and inspirations, using real stories from those who loved and wore their distinctive designs.

V&A launches a public call-out to for African fashion garments

To enhance the exhibition, the V&A has issued a public call-out to uncover personal testimonies from those who have worn garments by Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, and Alphadi, particular those “rare and early designs”.

Other items they are seeking include 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini by Chris Seydou, Twentieth-century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years that connect to personal stories, and family portraits and home movies from the independence and liberation years showing African and African diasporic fashion trends of the day. 

In addition, made-to-order garments, including aso ebi, co-created by local tailors, dressmakers and their clients, worn at festivals or to mark significant personal milestones, from 2010 onwards, and copies of the Drum Magazine from 1950-1970.
 The V&A said that it will showcase these objects and the stories behind them alongside personal insights from the designers, together with sketches, editorial spreads, photographs, film and catwalk footage.

Members of the public with objects that fit the above description are being asked to get in touch by email at africafashion@vam.ac.uk, and to share their pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion by May 1, 2021.

Checinska added: “Help us tell this visually compelling story of unbounded creativity, agency and self-fashioning. Check attics, trunks, family photo albums and home movies for the chance to feature in our exhibition.”

Ryan Ansah, Joey Ansah and Tanoa Sasraku-Ansah founding directors of the Kofi Ansah Foundation, said: “When Kofi Ansah was suddenly taken from us in 2014, not only did he leave behind a magnificent and prolific body of work, he also laid a roadmap for successive generations of African fashion designers to follow – through his creative use of textiles, his precise and exacting attention to detail and his absolute refusal to compromise his creative vision, dating back to his time at Chelsea College of Art and Design. 

“At the time of his passing he was a man still in the prime of his career, bringing his designs to the catwalks and boutiques of Rome, New York and Johannesburg, in addition to his significant contributions to growing Ghana’s textile industry and his partnership work with contemporaries across the African continent. The Foundation, in collaboration with Fashion Forum Africa, are delighted that his life and legacy are to be recognised and celebrated within the V&A’s ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition.”

‘Africa Fashion’ is expected to open in June 2022 at the V&A Museum in London. 

Main Image: Alphadi, Catwalk Image, c.1992-3 (c) Alphadi Second Images: Design by Chris Seydou (c) Nabil Zorkot / Imane Ayissi, Catwalk Image, SpringSummer 2020 by Fabrice Malard Third Image: Shade Thomas at desk 1970s, courtesy of Shade Thomas-Fahm

V&A Museum