Gresham College Lectures

The Politics of Fabric and Fashion in Africa 1960-Today

October 31, 2022 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
The Politics of Fabric and Fashion in Africa 1960-Today
Show Notes Transcript

1960 was the year of Africa. Over seventeen countries rid themselves of colonial rule and a new sense of pride in being Black and African was expressed through myriad artforms, notably via the fashioning of the body.

Using objects in the V&As ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition this lecture explores how fibre and fabric carried meaning in the moment of independence and carries meaning now in the cutting-edge work of Africa’s contemporary fashion creatives, Aphia Sakyi, Thebe Magugu and Artsi Ifrach. 


A lecture by Dr Christine Checinska

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website: https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/africa-fashion

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- Do clothes maketh the man, or woman for that matter? How might fabric and fashion allow us to speak about ourselves and the way that we want to be seen? The writer and cultural critic Sarat Maharaj once posed the question, "Textile art - who are you?" Going on to suggest that we might understand textiles under the "chameleon figure" of the "undecidable", something that at first glance belongs to one genre yet, on closer inspection, seems to stretch and pull that genre right out of shape. The topic of fabric alone is a rich one, encompassing a breadth of techniques, a myriad of cultural meanings and the embodiment of countless stories. Together fabric and fashion do more than cover the body, they can become means of self-expression. But fashion is also the way in which the unequal distribution of power in all societies is constructed, maintained, and experienced as legitimate. Whilst the converse is true, fabric and fashion can also be used to challenge and reaffirm one's position in society. And this is what I'd like to focus on today, the chameleon-like power of fabric and fashion to speak and to transform. There are of course accepted truths about this broader function of the two whether in relation to cultures situated in the Global North, here in the Global North, or in the Global South. It's easy, however, I think, to fall into the trap of assuming that all African fashions and ways of fashioning the body are always acts of deliberate creative agency. Or that all African fashions have hidden political meanings rooted in issues associated with race. This is not the case. Some fashion creatives simply want to make beautiful clothes. Some want to be part of the European haute couture system and some do not. The contemporary African fashion scene is a complex one of contradictions made more so by the uneasy relationship between fashion, culture, and race, surfacing from entangled histories of colonization and decolonization. Using objects in the V&A's "Africa Fashion" exhibition, this lecture explores how fabric and fashion carried meaning in the moment of independence and liberation and still carries meaning today in the cutting edge work of Africa's contemporary African fashion creatives, Bubu Ogisi of IAMISIGO, Thebe Magugu and Artsi Ifrach of Maison ArtC. During decades of colonial rule, we as African people and our creative expressions were represented as subhuman, something other than civilized, by the European colonizing forces. Nevertheless, Europe's civilizing mission failed to halt cultural production underpinned by local sensibilities, including creative expression through fashioning the body. In these post-colonial moments of shifting power dynamics, cultural identities were refashioned out of the strategic and subconscious interweaving of cultures and performed through the manipulation of dress. The fashions of the day both set and kept pace with the rhythms of freshly independent lives. The body became a site of transformation and representation, a primary tool in the performances through which modernity was conceived, constructed, and challenged in Africa. The idea that fashion might be a self-defining art form became a reality once more. The fashions worn allowed us to show ourselves to the world as we knew ourselves to be, as individuals with diverse beliefs, values, styles, and identity. Ghana had become the first West African country to gain independence from Britain, its former colonizer, in 1957. Morocco and Tunisia, in the north, had gained independence from France four years earlier. By 1960 there was no turning back. Over 17 countries rid themselves of colonial rule and a new sense of pride in being Black and African was expressed through myriad art forms that culminated in the cultural renaissance. This unmistakable zest for life, the groundswell of creativity, coupled with economic and political will, provided the perfect context for the building of a modern fashion industry. Hero named designers like Chris Seydou, on the screen, primarily known for putting bògòlanfini, or Malian mud cloth, onto international catwalks, and Folashadé "Shadé" Thomas-Fahm, known for revalorising Nigerian weaving techniques, emerged in this post-Independence era. The wearing of traditional fabrics became a political act, as did the making of them on the continent as opposed to overseas. You see, Independence saw production relocating to the continent, when African competitors established their own rival businesses. Take the case of print cloth, for example. Known as Ankara, African-print, Dutch wax, print cloth has been fashionable in West and East Africa since the late 19th century. Its history is bound up with the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans. Its production is inextricably linked to Empire-building and colonization by Europeans. In 1846 when factory-produced imitation batik failed to sell in the Dutch East Indies, or Indonesia today, because of the crackle-effect, it was marketed in West Africa instead, where, over time, print cloth gained cultural re-signification. The crackle-effect, seen as an imperfection by Indonesians, was seen as a desirable feature as it made each cloth unique. By the late 1800s, European manufacturers actively sought out West African tastes, often working alongside women traders, to maximize the market potential of print cloth. Brown Fleming Ltd. exported cloth to the British-controlled West African territories from the late 1880s to 1912. Scottish trader Ebenezer Brown Fleming, through a network of contacts including the Gold Coast Colony missionaries, gained an understanding about West African markets that would assist in securing his company's success. There was a desire for higher quality fabrics, there were culturally specific tastes and aesthetic preferences. He also developed an understanding of the role that fabric played in the projection of social status, beliefs and other significant information that wearers wanted to convey. Fleming's cloths were initially produced by HKM, based in the Netherlands. His own company was established in 1895 in Glasgow. He thereafter obtained trademarks for his own designs and others that he had appropriated. This example is thought to be a wrapper fabric, designed in 1909 and sold in Ghana. The fashions of the day are clearly visible in the design, notice the high neck tops, for example. Fabrics with designs like these would've found a market, a ready market, amongst members of the fraternal orders, so the Freemasons, or the Orange Order, or the Oddfellows. And when worn by the wife of a member of a fraternity within colonial society, this fabric would've had very specific associations. Hundreds if not thousands of textile techniques and traditions exist on the continent beyond print cloth, from bògòlanfini dating back at least 800 years in Mali, to kuba, which originated over 300 years ago in the Kuba kingdom, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. As artist Sonya Clark is reputed to have said, and I quote, "Cloth is to the African what monuments are to Westerners," end quote. An observation repeated by sculptor El Anatsui and many others. Such is the importance of fabric then and now. In the mid to late 20th century, as the various nations fought for and achieved independence, easily identifiable commemorative fabrics were produced. Commissioned by political parties and activist groups as a way of rallying support, these fabrics when draped across the body, constituted powerful visual expressions of shared identities, ideals, and concerns. Once such fabric is the newly acquired ANC commemorative print cloth. This silkscreen print bears the Akasia, South Africa, Nkosi Traditional Fabric markers make on the lower selvedge and was manufactured in South Africa, in the early 1990s. Factory-produced imitation wax-resistant fabrics, known as "fancy prints" or "fancy fabrics", were introduced into Africa from Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. These cloths typically consisted of a photographic element combined with large blocks of color and geometric pattern. Commemorative cloths like this ANC Mandela design sit within the genre of fancy prints. These printed cotton fabrics are produced to mark significant personal, local, national, and international events like anniversaries, or to map the election of prominent local and international politicians. They were and are destined for practical use, for example, fashioning the body or for carrying goods, or for adoring living spaces. Many commemorative cloths featuring the portrait of Nelson Mandela have been designed and manufactured in Africa, Europe, and China. The design of this fabric follows that of more historic ones with a border top and bottom, a central disc or aperture, and a crest. A black, green and yellow stripe, referencing the ANC flag, provides a frame for a repeat pattern of wheels, which stand for industry and ambition. On the green crackle-effect ground beneath them, a series of ANC slogans in capital letters are clearly visible, "A better life for all. Working together for jobs, peace and freedom". The ANC logo, consisting of a shield with a right hand holding the party's flag flying from a spear, and a pair of wheels appear either side the central portrait of Mandela. This particular length of fabric was originally purchased for a nominal sum in the 1990s at an anti-apartheid rally happening in Camden Town Hall here in London. Such fundraising events were not unusual. Across Britain, from the mid-1980s to the fall of the apartheid system in 1994, grassroots and left-wing organizations campaigned for South Africa's return to Black majority rule. For example, in London on the 25th of March, 1990, over 20,000 anti-apartheid demonstrators gathered here at Trafalgar Square. The British Anti-Apartheid Movement was founded in Camden. It had grown out of the Boycott Movement which had started in 1959 by exiled activists Tennyson Makiwane and Abdul Minty as well as others, during growing opposition to colonialism and the subsequent call for independence. The Boycott Movement urged British shoppers to avoid purchasing South African goods, particularly fruit, a campaign that the donor of this fabric supported. Mandela had become the face of both the ANC and the AAM by the late 1970s, his portrait an instantly recognizable symbol of struggle. This length of fabric was never worn, however, rather it was used as a special occasion tablecloth. Post-Independence, many new governments looked at reinvigorating textile manufacture to stimulate economic growth and therefore stability. They actively encouraged the wearing of locally produced cloths and invested in local textile mills. Countries also introduced protectionist policies to limit or even completely ban the import of foreign cloth. Success varied, but in Tanzania, the textile industry employed around one in four of the country's workers at its peak in 1980. Between 1961 and '68, five new textile factories opened there. And these companies were set up in direct competition with European manufacturers like Vlisco, in Holland, who had historically held a monopoly and are still a thriving business today producing Dutch wax cottons. The Urafiki Friendship Textile Mill was opened in 1968 and it became the largest employer in Tanzania in the early 1970s. Factories like Urafiki were a source of national pride. Khanga, which you can see in the top left-hand corner of the screen, was one of the main products. Worn in matching pairs, khanga became popular on the Swahili coast at the end of the 19th century. This particular one commemorates the 1967 Arusha Declaration, which was Tanzania's most prominent statement of African socialism. The text circling the house that you see, in which President Nyerere declared independence, translates as, "This house is indeed the place where declaration was born." In contrast to the various printed fabrics that I've discussed so far, the Ankara, the Dutch wax, the commemorative cloth, the Khanga, post-Independence fashion designer Shadé Thomas-Fahm, chose to celebrate Nigerian woven textile traditions. She favored muted colors rather than the flamboyant tones typically adopted by Dutch wax fabrics, which she felt allowed Nigerian fashions to be dismissed, or so she feared. Instead, she pioneered the use of Nigerian fabrics such as aso-òkè, òkènè and akwete. Her notable designs included the boubou, a simple, paired-back style for women adapted from the men's agbádá robe, and the pre-tied gèlè. She famously inserted a zip into the ìrò making it more suitable for independent women on the go during this period. Remember this is the 1960s. The ìrò would previously have needed adjustment during the day and there was a risk of showing your tòbì underneath, which would've been highly embarrassing, according Shadé Thomas-Fahm. Innovations such as this epitomize her creation of an aesthetic that was visually expressing nationhood, modernity and cosmopolitanism from newly decolonized Nigerian perspectives. She also is key in contributing to the development of a professionalized fashion industry in Nigeria, but more widely across the continent. In thinking about the work of contemporary fashion creatives on the continent, I'm reminded of the narrative potential of post-Independence fabrics and fashions. And I'm also reminded of writer and cultural critic Kobena Mercer who, in calling out the issue of continuing to speak, or to critique, or to create work from a position of lack, spoke of a collaged, or bricoleur aesthetic, that characterizes discourse and artistic practices. He suggested that this is rooted in and rooted through a relational understanding of identity, distinct to African and Diasporic experiences. He described it as a way of working that reflects the rupture and fragmentation of African histories impacted by kidnap, enslavement, and colonization on the one hand, but also the creativity and syncretism that emerged in this same context as cultures clashed and coalesced. Bricolage and syncretism go hand in hand. There can be a coming together of seemingly disparate influences to create a harmonious whole. And this is something that connects the creatives that I want to focus on next. Contemporary fashion creative Bubu Ogisi of IAMISIGO writes, "My work focuses on decolonizing the mind thoroughly, by engaging with socio-political questions relating to religion, gender, traditions, symbols and scripts, tribes and magic, as well as issues affecting the future of our ecosystem. How do we embrace our histories as having passed and now move forward?" Every IAMISIGO collection is a meditation on a particular fabric and fiber tradition, from Congolese raffia to West African strip-weave cotton. Ogisi's "Chasing Evil" collection examines the Belgian exploitation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the exploitation of Africa as a whole. Other inspirations include the Congolese figurine Nkondi Nkissi, which is used for protection. Her ongoing use of deconstruction, the finished fraying edges that you see on the screen, reflects this process of decolonization. This is just one of the features, one of the recurring features of her work. But Ogisi's practice is genre defying, encompassing fashion design, filmmaking, and textile art. In the 2022 exhibition, "I Am Not Myself" presented at The Tetley in Leeds, Ogisi, inspired by the adornments used in the sacred practices of the Nwantantay of Burkina Faso, the Bedu of Ivory Coast, and the Ogbodo Enyi of Nigeria, explored masquerade and myth, or in her hands, new mythmaking, as processes of decolonization. The install included a handmade tapestry and four checkerboard flags commissioned for The Tetley's roof. The exhibition as a whole was effectively about healing through ritual, whether traditional or new, newly invented by the artist, and the two were deliberately blurred by Ogisi. She deployed a mix of natural and man-made fibers to do this. In contrast, and coming now to Thebe Magugu. Magugu's Autumn/Winter 2021 "Alchemy" collection centers on African spirituality and the relationship we have with our ancestors. For this collection he collaborated with Noentla Khumalo, a stylist and traditional healer. Khumalo threw her divination tools onto a mat, including goat knuckles, a police whistle, and a dice, which Magugu then photographed and abstracted into the print that you see on the screen. Relationship that one has with one's ancestors is foundational to many African spiritualties. Breaking that relationship can result in existential angst or other illnesses. So Magugu, through fabric and fashion, enters a conversation with the healers who he sees as conduits that allow us to keep connected to our ancestors and also to the divine. But Magugu's practice also defies pigeonholes. He creates a magazine, for example, as well as his seasonal collections. The "Alchemy" collection was also accompanied by a film, "The Ultimate Midnight Angels", written and directed by Kristin-Lee Moolman. It explored the same themes that Magugu explored through his collection, but she did so through the story of a love affair between two members of rivaling tribes. Moolman creates new mythologies, new intersectional heroes, re-imagining and rewriting their own stories and histories, their own realities outside of perpetual victimhood. Now to Artsi Ifrach of Maison ArtC. He similarly references plural spiritualties in the commission "A Dialogue Between Cultures". This piece I feel is gloriously counter-cultural in the emphasis on spirituality alongside a will to find a common humanity between people expressed by the artist. And it's made from organza, it's covered in a hand embroidery in a cotton fiber, it's also scattered with plastic sequins. Ifrach's avant-garde pieces are usually saturated with historical references drawn from many global cultures. They typically blend decorative antique textiles, 19th century dress and vintage finds, to which he applies local craft techniques, working in collaboration with expert artisans. There's always something nostalgic yet futuristic, something playful but also political about his slow fashion creations. "A Dialogue Between Cultures" consists of an oversized organza trench coat, a visual signifier of Britishness according to Ifrach. But this is transformed into a Burka, a garment associated with women of the Muslim faith. The Burka is usually used to cover, to hide. Here in this form, in organza, it forces the viewer not only to look inside the piece, but also to look inside themselves. The exterior of the garment is embroidered with an outline drawing of the hands of Hamsa, or Fatima, which symbolizes faith or fate. They're said to ward off bad luck in Arab cultures. The mask covering the face honors multiple African masking traditions. The neutral beige color echoes that of a classic trench coat, but to the artist it's also the color of nudity, which he sees as a symbol of purity. Ifrach artfully makes a timely statement about cross-cultural exchange and unity in spite of difference, visually referencing 21st century multiculturalism through this piece, which was created in direct response to the "African Fashion" exhibition. In conclusion then, there's a kind of coming together of place, identity, and history in Ogisi, Magugu, and Ifrach's work. Their strategic deployment of fashion and fabric to tell stories at an individual and communal level, and to comment on today's urgent issues, is a reminder of the use of fabric in the moment of African independence. It's also a reminder that self-fashioning can be a transformational act, a masquerade that realigns a sense of self, facilitating the decolonization of one's mind. One can achieve a freedom from society's confounding constraints based on negative readings of racial, cultural, and gender difference. The strategic fashioning of the body can become a political act. Fabrics and fashions chosen with discernment can be integral to memory work and self-making. And I'm referencing the writer Toni Morrison here. However, because of the nature of everyday racism, any such freedoms are temporary. The threat of falling through a metaphorical trapdoor, of being battered down by metaphorical tom-toms is ever present. The fabrics and fashions under discussion do not offer neat solutions, that's not what the creators are trying to do, it's not what they're seeking to do. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that all African fashions are always deliberate acts of creative agency or that they all have hidden meanings rooted in issues associated with race. But when worn, like second skins, these particular fabrics and fashions make visible the chameleon-like process of becoming that echoes the lived experiences of many of us of African heritage where being itself is a political act. Thank you. (audience appluading) - I've got a question here. Can you tell us a little bit more about the actual logistics of setting up the exhibition? Did you need mannequins of different shapes and sizes since some items were borrowed from real wearers? - I think the whole process of working on "Africa Fashion", part of the story was wanting to give people a glimpse of the diversity of the continent. So we have over 22 of the 54 African countries represented. We wanted to say to people that, "Yes, it's a diverse continent with diverse works coming from it created by diverse people," so the mannequin development was started two years ago when we started the project. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to reference as many skin tones as we could do through the mannequin development, as many hair textures as we could through the mannequin development, and so we landed through consultation with our internal staff network, people of color, for example, and other community panels and so on, and the youth co-design group, we landed on four skin tone representations and four hair textures or hairstyles. The other thing that's quite interesting, prior to joining the museum world, I worked in the fashion industry and it was really intriguing for me to see that within museum worlds and within museum galleries, you build out your mannequins to fit your garments, whereas in industry you do the reverse. In industry you're constantly pinning away fabric, whereas in the museum world you're building out. So what's been really interesting is seeing the different shapes and sizes, particularly when it comes to sections of the exhibition, like the co-creation section or the made-to-order section where we are showcasing works worn by everyday people so of course they're different sizes and different shapes. So that's a really interesting process and an interesting touch that really brings the garments to life. - Do you have a personal favorite amongst the collection? - It's really hard. I mean you shouldn't really have favorites and it does change depending on what I'm looking at or what I notice when I go in, but the exhibition itself, it's ensembles, it's adornments, but it's also film and photography, so I think in terms of an ensemble, one of my favorites has to be the first ensemble that you see and it's a beautiful fuchsia pink ensemble that's been created by the couturier Imane Ayissi and it references- He starts the exhibition for us because he has a foot in multiple fashion cultures, he has a foot in different artistic traditions and he really says that African fashions can look like many different things, there are many different ways to be African and fashionable. And so for Imane Ayissi, he's not afraid to use his agency and what he wants to do is be part of the haute couture system in Paris, so he begins the show, but he's part of the couture system in Paris. And the actual ensemble, it's fuchsia pink and it's a draped backless top fringed with Cameroonian raffia and then it's worn with these fabulously tailored palazzo pants. So you get this blending of references from his own heritage. So the top is almost like an agbádá robe that's been fringed with raffia and then you get these wonderfully tailored trousers that reference the European fashion system. So I think that Imane's work is a particular favorite. And then when you go to the show, and I hope that you do go to the show while it's on, one of the other things I love, if you look up into the ceiling, you see the fabulous film that's been created by Lakin Ogunbanwo that echoes the zest of life in the independence era, but in that film you have nine models wearing nine outfits from various designers, mixing and matching and styling up different outfits, captures that zest for life that we saw in the independence moment, but that we see that unbounded creative energy that we see in the contemporary fashion scene and it puts those together to showcase a film that's about fashion and movement 'cause you can't really speak about African fashions without thinking of movement and gesture and those things coming together to create a really distinctive style. So if you do go to the show, remember to look up and you'll see these wonderful films by Lakin Ogunbanwo with nine models and friends dancing and styling and strutting their stuff in their best outfits. - [Audience Member] Thank you, but could you tell me realistically who would buy and wear an organza trench coat-cum-Burka? I don't know what sort of of prices we're talking about, you didn't mention the accessibility of any of the garments that you showed in the exhibition to the ordinary consumer. And who is the ordinary consumer? Who would buy a garment such as this? I wonder if you could talk a little bit about- - So the question- - [Audience Member] The financial aspect of things. - Thank you, so the question is about markets, in essence, and like all fashion systems there are many different entry points into the African fashion scene. The exhibition showcases yes, high fashion, it showcases artistic pieces like the Artsi Ifrach piece on the screen, it also showcases ready-to-wear within each of those sections. So ready-to-wear is kind of the equivalent of high street fashions or middle market fashions in the UK. So we're giving a glimpse of the spread of different markets, different fashions within them, but also the artistic pieces like Artsi Ifrach's artistic response to the "Africa Fashion" exhibition. Within Co-Creation, for example, if we just take one section of the exhibition, there's diversity within that. So within that section of made-to-order, or Co-Creation, we have a garment that's literally been made by a corner tailor in Kenya from scraps of fabric. So at a nominal cost, the fabric was free to the person that designed the outfit, and she took those pieces to a corner tailor to have her outfit made, and that's shown alongside bespoke pieces made by the tailor Mai Atafo, it's men's wear, which can be ordered via WhatsApp, but it's a dinner suit on the one hand and it's an agbádá robe on the other. The third piece in that section is couture, so I think you can see a glimpse now of what I'm saying about the exhibition shows a variety. So within that same section you have couture, which is made-to-order high fashion. So the exhibition shows the gamut really of the African fashion scene and it's no different from the fashion scene here, where there are things that are affordable depending on whatever you have in your purse at the time. - [Audience Member 2] Hello, I'd like to know what could be the future of African- I mean the future for African fashion? - Could you- Sorry, could you expand on that? What do you mean by the future of African fashion? - [Audience Member 2] With such an exhibition I suppose that while African fashion is becoming more accessible in many ways, and in your opinion, what could be the next step? Would it be African fashion becoming mainstream in a way, seeing more customers paying African designers? That's another possibility. - Sure, I mean I think that that's why the exhibition is being staged now because what we've been seeing over the last few years is the impact that many of the designers in the show are having on the global fashion scene. They're innovative in terms of their aesthetics, but also in terms of their ways of working. So sustainability, for example, is ground zero for the designers in the show. So there is a way in which we feel that it's African creators that are shifting the landscape of global fashions and I think that that's only set to continue when you look at some of the collaborations that are happening with Global North companies, when you look at African creatives at the helm of fashion institutions, whether that's Edward Enninful at Vogue for example, or Kenya Hunt at ELLE, Ib Kamara, now designing for Off-White, so I think that- And of course the late Virgil Abloh. But I think the other thing to- Just on the back of the previous question, one of the things that we don't often realize is that African heritage designers are already working across the globe and these are the designers that are not necessarily name designers, but they're working for brands that we all know. We all know, we love or hate them, but we all know them. And so I feel that, that will just continue, that impact and that innovation will continue and I think it will shift the way that global fashions operate as well as look. - [Audience Member 3] Thank you very much. I had a related question. You mentioned in your lecture that in the period of decolonization that there was a re-onshoring of the production of fabric and of fashion. I just wondered what the trends are in that regard and whether the production, particularly ready-to-wear, has been able to be sustained locally and nationally or whether it is just subject to such difficult competing forces from the global fashion industry? - I think that's a really great question 'cause I think through the conversations that we've had with the designers that are in the show, there's absolutely a desire to- I think I accidentally went backwards there on the screen. I think there's a desire to produce on the continent, but that's not necessarily always possible. So I think in terms of the future of fashion, I think those two questions are related. So it'll be interesting to see how that develops and whether people will eventually have to produce offshore. But at the moment what's really interesting is the way in which people are making in Africa, there's a real desire to do that, but there's a lovely combination between factory production, but maybe local hand-finishing for example, so there's an agility about the businesses. In terms of sustainability, there are brands like Tongoro, I didn't show their work, but they use ends-of-line, so ends-of-rolls, leftover fabrics so that they don't do seasonal collections as such. So there is a kind of emphasis on conscious fashion. So when the production run ends, it ends and that's it, they move on. So I think those sorts of business models allow for people to make on the continent and I think it's those kinds of business models that I would hope would have an impact on fashions globally because it is a more sustainable, conscious way of working. - [Dina] Hi, my name is Dina and I'm a student from Mulberry School for Girls. I really enjoyed your lecture and I'm interested in understanding why colonial values appear to influence what fashion is worth, and why do you think these narratives persist? - That's a big question. So colonial values impacting what people wear, I think that, that is just the way- It's not just colonial values that impact what people wear, I think any historical and political context will impact what people wear. If you think about the mini skirt, you know, the mini skirt emerged particularly in the Global North in that moment of women's liberation, for example. You get designers like Karesh using the new technologies in terms of fabrics in the '60s. So fashion always emerges out of the context that it's born in, that historical moment that it's- Historical and political moment that it's born from. I think it is a fact that traces of colonization will always exist, you know, they exist in people, you know, we're here because Britain was over there, for example. So those traces are always there. But what I'm interested in, as I said in the lecture, yes those, you know, our colonial histories created fracturing on all sides and fragmentation on all sides, but it also, if you think about Creolisation, moving to the Caribbean now, it's a space of creativity and it's a space of possibility as cultures clash and coalesce and create something new, and that's what I meant by syncretism, I think I mentioned. But those traces of colonization will always be there really 'cause it's in all of our histories, all of our histories are bound up with that. It's not something that one can escape from, it's there, you know, I was drinking a cup of coffee earlier, you know, it's there in everyday life isn't it? You know, the banana that you grab for your breakfast, the coffee that you have throughout the day, the sugar in your tea, these histories are there in everyday life, the fabrics that we wear. - Thank you. I've got one online here. If African fashion becomes more mainstream, do you think it would affect authenticity and the culture it represents? - Will it affect authenticity or the culture it represents? (stammering) All cultural expressions, I should say, are always in flux. No cultures are static, no identities are static. So everything constantly changes, so I always struggle with this idea of authenticity, 'cause what do we mean when we speak about authenticity if nothing is static? So I find that quite a tricky question to answer and it's not because I'm dodging the question, it's more because I question the very concept of authenticity. - I've got another one on the exhibition specifically. Were there any specific pieces of fabrics, cloths or patterns you had to leave out of the exhibition? Or maybe you weren't able to include on this particular one? - There are lots of things that we just couldn't include. We're in a very small space, it's 54 countries, you're never going to include everything. So it was always a case of trying to give our audiences a glimpse of the glamor and the politics of the fashion scene then and now. And with within that glimpse to show something that is as diverse as possible. So along the way there were many people that perhaps we couldn't include, many works we couldn't include, but the exciting thing for us about the exhibition is that it's the starting point. As a museum, we're absolutely committed to increasing our focus, consciously increasing our focus on African creativity. And that means continuing to acquire pieces that come into the collection that can be researched, that can be seen by members of the public, that can be included in future exhibitions. So whilst this particular exhibition has now opened and it's on until next April, our job of extending our holdings to properly and consciously celebrate African creativity, that job continues. So those things that perhaps we couldn't include, we're now looking to build relationships with those designers and to, together with those designers and makers, think about additional pieces for our collection and how those might be presented and shared with our audiences. - I've got another one, it's a little bit long, so be patient with me. You spoke about the traditional fabrics becoming a political act during the African Independence, would you say that this is still the case? How impactful is African fashion in Africa still, especially with the infiltration of secondhand clothing? - I think it really depends on the wearer and I think particularly in the context of the conversation around the flooding of Africa with secondhand goods from the Global North, this is something that we look at in the "African Fashion" book actually, the book is more than an exhibition catalog, it sort of stands as its own publication. So the last section of the book speaks to many of these issues like the flooding of Africa with secondhand goods, like what is the future of African fashions, to speak to the question that we had earlier. And I really think it does depend on the individual wearers. So there are people, you know, the photographer Travis Thurman for (stammering) Trevor Stuurman, sorry, for example, who consciously wears agbádá robes or traditional textiles, and for him it is a political act, or it's a statement, it's a statement about who he is and the importance of keeping those textile traditions alive. Or you have people like Mama Nike in Nigeria really championing Adire, or designers like Awa Meité working with local artisans, local women to produce hand-dyed, hand-woven organic cottons. So it really is down to the individual wearer and the individual maker. But I think what's exciting is this coming together of many different traditions, whether it's from the Global North or Global South coming together. And for me it's important, I feel it's important, to keep those textile traditions alive. Perhaps it's through fashion education. So there are organizations like CIAF that is looking at fashion education on the continent and ways of keeping those textile traditions alive. But this idea of keeping something alive, recognizing that things constantly change, so it's not about pickling something in aspic, it's not about trying to fix something, it's more how do we- Like, you know, Nkwe developing Dikawu cloth, the new strip weave cloth that's made out of recycled denim. So these are the exciting things that we see happening on the continent where people are absolutely keeping those traditions alive, but inputting innovations into them. - [Audience Member 4] Because high fashion is, like, very dominated by Western culture, do you think that in the future African fashion will have more of an influence in high fashion and be seen, like, will be worn by celebrities, and in turn will that have an impact on fast fashion as well? - I think we're already seeing that. If you look at designers like Thebe Magugu, who is showing work on international catwalks, is in international high fashion magazines, you see his presence there and his impact there. You also see designers like Tokyo James dressing Burna Boy, or you see Tongoro dressing Beyonce, so I feel it's already happening and it will continue. But I think for me what's particularly exciting is the fact that African creators are using their agency, choosing how they want to work. Some people are really wedded to this idea of high fashion, other people it's all about ready-to-wear or it's about, "I'm a corner tailor, I'm just making this and I'm happy to do that." So I feel that, that is, for me, the exciting thing. And they're all as creative as the next person, whichever level of the market they're in. You know, I quite admire Sarah Diouf at Tongoro where she will make just a limited edition of things and she doesn't want her business to become, you know, a block busting huge empire, and I think that's a different model of fashion and for me that's really refreshing and it feels like a conscious way of making fashion. So not always chasing the largest order, not always chasing that celebrity, I find that really refreshing. - [Audience Member 5] Thank you for your presentation. I just doubt- When Asian food come to Western world, you need to adapt, you always change the original taste. So maybe the fashion was so much influenced by the market, the market here, maybe the market here is different from back home. How does it, yeah, if I compare this way, can you still say it's political? - Well, I think what's interesting, particularly with the designers, the creators that are in "Africa Fashion", is time and again in each conversation there was a sense in which this group of creators are charting their own course. Yes, they need to make a living, but they're really not interested in comparing themselves to Global North designers, they're really not interested in contorting their aesthetics to fit the Global North markets. I think the Global North markets find what they're doing interesting, and I think this is exciting, but I don't get a sense of people contorting themselves or watering down their message. Bubu Ogisi, for example, doesn't water down her message. So her garments, the ones that I showed on the screen, you can look at them and they're aesthetically pleasing, if you choose to, you can actually try to understand what her research is and what she's looking to explore through the works. So they operate on different levels. But I think what is refreshing is this, "We're charting our own course. We want to build a sustainable fashion industry on the continent. Great if people in the Global North like what we're doing, but we're not going to bend and contort to fit what the Global North is expecting." To use your analogy with the food, we're not going to shift and change our dish and pull it out of shape to fit the Global North. - I'll take one more question from the online audience. Could a person's class, status or tribe be identified by the type of fabric or pattern that was worn in the past? - I suspect it could in the past. Beyond that, 'cause I'm not a textile historian, I can't go into detail with named examples, but we worked in partnership with the textile historian John Picton, so on the V&A website you can find further essays about different fabric types and the meaning behind certain fabric types. So please do have a look at that, or more broadly the work of John Picton, who's a real pioneer in this area of the way that fabric depicts class, culture, and tribe or ethnic group. - Thank you all for your attention. Please join me in thanking Christine again for her wonderful lecture. (audience appluading)