Two sizzling blockbusters summer 2022

Africa Fashion, the new blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, is a brilliant showcase of 45 designers from over 20 countries. It is a joyous celebration of the diversity of creativity in African fashion from the independence and liberation years to today’s vibrant contemporary fashion. Be prepared to dedicate a morning or afternoon to this spectacle as there is so much to see and absorb.

More than 250 objects are presented in the exhibition, half of which come from the museum’s permanent collection, including 70 new acquisitions. Many garments, taken from the personal archives of mid-20th century African designers, are on display for the first time in a London museum – Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi. These designers were inspired by past traditions, recovered them, reinvented them and thus laid the foundations of today’s fashion revolution. Creations by contemporary African fashion designers are also present, including Imane Ayissi, IAMISIGO, Moshions, Thebe Magugu and Sindiso Khumalo.

Sketches, editorial prints, photographs, film and fashion show images adorn the costume presentations. Showing how African independence radically shook things up across the continent, the exhibition explores how fashion, alongside music and the visual arts, has been a key part of Africa’s cultural renaissance. Striking exhibitions of couture and ready-to-wear designs showcase the wide range and creativity of the new generation of designers, collectives, stylists and fashion photographers working in Africa today. Africa Fashion also artfully shows how the digital world has accelerated the expansion of the industry, irreversibly transforming global fashions as we know them.

The museum catalog for Africa Fashion by womenswear designer and art historian Christine Checinska brilliantly accompanies the exhibition. And the book recently published by Flammarion Africa: the continent of fashion by Emmanuelle Courrèges is also fascinating. From the catwalks of Lagos to the Afropunk festival in Johannesburg, via the “image makers” of Marrakech and the influencers of Dakar or Accra, a new generation of fashion designers, photographers, bloggers and African artists are redefining the aesthetic contours of the continent. . Designers across the continent are reinventing their textile and historical traditions: bazin fabrics mingle with plastics, stretch gives body to woven fabric, knitted beads inspire knit designs, and the traditional adire print championed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Michelle Obama embellished silk dresses and pencil skirts.

“This is the domain of the Strange, the Marvelous and the Fantastic….Here is the liberated, dazzling and beautiful image….Here is the poet, the painter and the artist presiding over the metamorphoses and inversions of the world under the sign of hallucination and madness. surrealist artist Suzanne Césaire, 1941

One of the most visited shows this year is certainly In the Black Fantastic at the Hayward Gallery in London’s Southbank Centre. The exhibition has been brilliantly curated by writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun who states: “As a concept, the fantastic noir describes not so much a movement or a rigid category as a way of seeing shared by artists grappling with the inequalities of contemporary racialized society. by evoking new visions of black possibility. The exhibition features eleven contemporary artists from the African Diaspora who draw on science fiction, myth and Afrofuturism. It’s a real pleasure to spend time here as each artist has been given plenty of space, each in separate galleries, with nothing cramped or crowded.

Comprising painting, photography, video, sculpture and multimedia installations, the exhibition creates immersive experiences that take the viewer into a new environment somewhere between the real and the imaginary world. Participating artists include Nick Cave, Sedrick Chisom, Ellen Gallagher, Hew Locke, Wangechi Mutu, Rashaad Newsome, Chris Ofili, Tabita Rezaire, Cauleen Smith, Lina Iris Viktor and Kara Walker.

A major new commission from Nick Cave greets visitors at the entrance to the show. The dramatic installation is made up of hundreds of casts of the artist’s arm, linked together like links in a chain. Next to that, Cave’s amazing sound combinations. This series of wearable artwork began 30 years ago in response to the brutal beating of Rodney King by police in Los Angeles. Also featured is a new Soundsuit commemorating the murder of George Floyd.

Hew Locke’s installation is a clever series of photographic portraits of the artist posing as corrupt kings, tyrants and bandits, while Lina Iris Viktor’s beautiful paintings were inspired by astronomy, Aboriginal dream paintings, African textiles, and West and Central African mythology.

Wangechi Mutu reimagines the human body and reflects on its perilous environment, featuring collages and film alongside two new sculptures of female figures made from natural Kenyan materials including red earth, horn and shells.

The works of Sedrick Chisom and Kara Walker explore the ideology of whiteness and the history of racial violence in the United States. A stop-motion animation by Walker weaves a nightmarish story of racial violence and domestic terrorism based on events in recent history.

A season of films by filmmakers from across the African Diaspora, selected by the show’s curator Ekow Eshun, runs simultaneously next door at the BFI Southbank throughout July. Highlights include Touki Bouki (1973) by Djibril Diop Mambety, by Julie Dash daughters of dust (1991) and Afronauts by Nuotama Bodumo (2014) and artist Alberta Whittle’s Brilliance Between a cry and a whisper (2019).

Africa Fashion, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, until 16 April 2023. Tickets £16.00

In the dark fantasy, Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Center until September 18 2022. Tickets £13.50

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