An Alphadi catwalk circa 1922

LONDON — The Victoria & Albert museum is responding to the ongoing conversations around the lack of representation across the world’s biggest cultural institutions by dedicating its next major fashion exhibition to Africa.

The purpose of the show, slated for June 2022, is to highlight the continent’s global impact and “spark a renegotiation of the geography of fashion,” according to Christine Checinska, the museum’s new curator of African and African diaspora fashion, who will be leading the project.

“The V&A has a far-reaching platform and with that comes responsibility. Our international standing as a world-leading museum gives us a voice, a voice that is almost always heard. We intend to use that voice to tell new layered stories about the richness and diversity of African creativity, cultures and histories, using fashion as a catalyst,” Checinska said.

She explained that showcasing the fashions of such a vast regions is an impossible task, so the focus of the show will be on the works of midcentury designers such as Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, Shade Thomas-Fahm and Alphadi, alongside the new generation of stylists, photographers and social media personalities who are at the center of Africa’s fashion scene today.

Checinska will be working with the designers’ personal archives, as well as the V&A collection of African textiles and photographs, many of which will be going on display for the first time.

A design by Chris Seydou

A design by Chris Seydou  Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

“The exhibition provides a great opportunity to re-frame some of our historic textiles within the context of contemporary fashion. Our 1960s adire cloth for example, could be displayed alongside contemporary designs using adire. Adire is an indigo-dyed cloth historically associated with Yoruba women in southwest Nigeria. The exhibition gives us the space to unravel the rich history of this beautiful textile technique,” added the curator.

But aside from working with private archives, the museum is also making a public call-out to anyone who has clothes by Sydou, Ansah or Thomas-Fahm, personal testimonies to share, family portraits or made-to-order garments that showcase African and African diasporic fashion from the years of the African independence to the modern day.

“Our exhibition is as much about the stories that can be told through objects as it is about the objects themselves. We wanted to capture personal stories that bring the exhibits to life. The foregrounding of multiple African perspectives and voices is a key guiding principle that informs all aspects of Africa Fashion, so we had to do a public call out,” said Checinska, who is also planning on collaborating with creatives, academics and cultural critics from across the U.K. and the U.S. for the upcoming show.

Designer Shade Thomas

Designer Shade Thomas  Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

“Collaboration is woven into our way of working. We will continue working in this way as it will allow us to deliver the rich, diverse, inspirational show that we are aiming for,” she added.

By adopting an open, collaborative approach Checinska is also aiming to welcome new audiences into the museum: “We believe that this exhibition will bring in new audiences who may have not felt represented in the past. Strategically we are working with experts — wearers, community groups, young people of color, theoreticians, practitioners — to ensure that we can engage with as diverse an audience as possible. We are mindful of the myriad ways that people respond to museum exhibits and are working hard to make sure that we communicate and exchange ideas in accessible ways.”

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