V&A museum announces its next blockbuster exhibition: ‘Africa Fashion’ and issues public call-out for items

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Natasha Preskey
·4 min read
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A look by Ghanaian designer Kofi Ansah, left, and one of Nigerian designer Alphadi’s creations, right (Getty images )
A look by Ghanaian designer Kofi Ansah, left, and one of Nigerian designer Alphadi’s creations, right (Getty images )

London's Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum has announced that its next major exhibition will showcase contemporary African fashion.

The exhibition, Africa Fashion, which is due to open in June 2022, will celebrate the global impact of fashion from the continent, displaying over 250 objects from the personal archives of mid-20th century and contemporary fashion creatives, including designers, stylists and photographers.

It will mark the first time that the work of 20th century designers Shade Thomas-Fahm, from Nigeria, Chris Seydou, from Mali, and Kofi Ansah, from Ghana, and contemporary Nigerian designer Alphadi has been displayed in a London museum.

These four creators were some of the first African designers to attract international attention, and the exhibition will chart the impact they've had on fashion around the world.

The V&A's Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion Dr Christine Checinska said the museum is seeking to foreground "individual African voices and perspectives".

Dr Checinska accepts that to try to display all the fashions from across the continent in one exhibition would be "impossible".

She said: "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."

The museum said its new blockbuster exhibition is part of a wider commitment to growing its permanent collection by African and African Diaspora designers. This means “using fashion as a catalyst” for telling stories about the diversity of African culture and history.

The founding directors of the Kofi Ansah Foundation said that the designer, who died in 2014, "laid a roadmap for successive generations of African fashion designers".

Ghanaian designer Kofi Ansah at the end of one of his shows in 2009AFP via Getty Images
Ghanaian designer Kofi Ansah at the end of one of his shows in 2009AFP via Getty Images

Ansah designed the official anniversary cloth when Ghana celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007, and also created the costumes for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 African Cup of Nations, held in Ghana.

When Ansah died, a BBC journalist recalled a time when she had she suggested he was in the beauty industry, and he had responded: "No, I am not in the beauty business, I am in the bringing happiness business."

"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," Ryan Ansah, Joey Ansah & Tanoa Sasraku-Ansah said of the upcoming exhibition."

Alphadi, the only living designer of the four centred by the exhibition, was named a UNESCO ‘artist for peace’ in 2016, a title that recognises artists who promote tolerance, respect and human dignity. The 63-year-old has worked with UNICEF in an effort to combat child marriage in Niger.

Alphadi also founded the International Festival of African Fashion, which takes place every two years in Niger, and last took place in 2019.

The museum has issued a public call-out for garments, personal stories and pictures from people who have worn designs by Alphadi, Thomas-Fahm, Seydou and Ansah.

Items the museum is seeking include:

  • Rare and early designs by Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi

  • 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

  • Family portraits and home movies from the independence and liberation years showing African and African diasporic fashion trends of the day

  • 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

  • Copies of the Drum Magazine from 1950-1970

Of the call-out, Dr Checinska said: "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."

Members are the public wishing to respond to the V&A’s callout are 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.

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