The V&A’s Next Blockbuster Show Will Celebrate African Fashion – & It Wants Your Help

Photo by Nabil Zorkot Design by Chris Seydou Courtesy Of The Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum is globally renowned for its blockbuster fashion exhibitions, having taken a deep dive into subjects as varied as handbags, kimonos and underwear, and hosting retrospectives on the likes of Christian Dior, Frida Kahlo, Balenciaga and Mary Quant. Today it announces that its next major show will be a celebration of African fashion.
Photo by Fabrice Malard Courtesy Of The Victoria & Albert Museum
Imane Ayissi Catwalk Spring Summer 2020
Opening June 2022, Africa Fashion will be "celebrating the irresistible creativity, ingenuity and unstoppable global impact of contemporary African fashions as dynamic and varied as the continent itself." Curated by Dr Christine Checinska, curator of African diaspora fashion, over 250 objects sourced from the personal archives of contemporary African creatives will sit alongside the V&A's in-house collection of textiles and photographs – many of which will be on display for the first time ever.
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Photo Courtesy Of The Victoria & Albert Museum
Shade Thomas at desk, 1970s
"Our guiding principle is the foregrounding of individual African voices and perspectives," Checinska said in a statement from the museum. "The exhibition 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."
Photo by Alphadi Courtesy Of The Victoria & Albert Museum
Alphadi Catwalk Image -c.1992-93
Focusing on the first generation of African designers to gain global attention – from Shade Thomas-Fahm and Chris Seydou to Kofi Ansah and Alphadi – the exhibition will "trace their rise and impact, their creative process and inspirations, brought to life by real stories from those who loved and wore their distinctive designs." Much like the Mary Quant exhibition, the V&A is issuing a call-out for the general public to submit their garments and personal testimonies to bring the show to life. Items the museum is looking for 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 Drum Magazine from 1950-1970.
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Photo Courtesy Of The Victoria & Albert Museum
Starch resist indigo dyed cotton cloth, Nigeria, 1960-1964
"Help us tell this visually compelling story of unbounded creativity, agency and self-fashioning," Checinska says. "Check attics, trunks, family photo albums and home movies for the chance to feature in our exhibition."
The exhibition will form part of the V&A's broader and ongoing commitment to grow its permanent collection of work by African and African Diaspora designers. "This is a great initiative," Cameroon-born, Paris-based designer Imane Ayissi says. "It will be one of the first to bring an historical perspective on African fashion and it will show the rest of the world that African points of view on fashion and beauty didn’t start yesterday."
Though it'll be some time until we're able to visit galleries and museums safely, news of the thrilling Africa Fashion exhibition is giving us something to look forward to.
The call-out for Africa Fashion is launched today and will run until 1st May 2021. Anyone with objects that fit the description is asked to get in touch by email at africafashion@vam.ac.uk, and to share their pictures and memories using the hashtag #AfricaFashion.

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