Don’t always believe what you read in school history books. Our diverse and colourful continent has been leading the way in fashion, art, literature and music for thousands of years. The Africa Fashion exhibition at the V&A Museum in South Kensington is a homage to this often disregarded yet powerful historical legacy. Curated by Dr Christine Checinska, the exhibition comprises more than 250 objects ranging from record covers and political manifestos from the age of African liberation in the 1950s, through to historic commemorative cloth featuring the face of Nelson Mandela, and portrait photography from the mid to late 20th century depicting African nations on the cusp of independence.
New voices have not been excluded. The Minimalism, Mixology and Artisanal sections are devoted to young African designers who are celebrating their history and heritage by blurring the boundaries between past, present and future in their designs. NKWO is a Nigerian fashion designer who has pioneered a hand-loomed fabric she calls Dakala, incorporating traditional cloth weaving techniques with upcycled textiles in an effort to reduce fashion waste. IAMISIGO’s Bubu Ogisi draws on West African performance art and masquerade costumes to tell a uniquely African story through her garments.
Don’t worry, South Africa hasn’t been excluded. Local favourites Thebe Magugu and Sindiso Khumalo are flying the SA flag high at their respective shows in the exhibition. “It’s so often that our story has been told by other people,” Thebe says. “I feel like now, more than ever, African designers are really taking charge of their own narrative and telling people authentic stories and not imagined utopias.”
The Africa Fashion exhibition isn’t about letting the continent have a place at the world table. Rather, it’s a vociferous declaration that Africa has always been at the head of it.
The exhibition is showing at Gallery 40 at the V&A Museum in London until 16 April 2023. Tickets are £16 each, with a discount for under 26s.
This article first appeared in the 2022 annual special edition of YourLuxury Africa.