Organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, “African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style” introduces audiences to the dynamic traditions of African dress featuring colorful, boldly patterned printed cloth.
The exhibition, which opens March 26 and concludes July 30, highlights the interplay between regional preferences and cosmopolitanism that has long flourished on the continent, while highlighting the expansiveness of 21st-century, African-print fashion.
The works featured throughout the exhibition demonstrate the vital role that African print has played in the expression of beauty, fashion, and heritage, while creating transcultural connections across Africa and into the larger world.
The exhibition is organized into four distinct sections: “It All Starts with Cloth,” “Portraits in Print,” “Regional Styles, Fashion Preferences,” and “New Directions.” Collectively, the installation includes 60 tailored fashions, 100 archival and contemporary cloths, 20 black-and-white studio portrait photographs from the 1960s and 1970s, a series of runway videos, and seven works by contemporary visual artists. Ensembles on view draw from the Fowler’s collections, private loans and the remarkable archives of the Dutch textile manufacturing company Vlisco.
Several themes weave their way throughout the exhibition, mimicking the cyclical nature of fashion trends and the ripple effects of politics and technology on the formation of identity. One theme is consumer agency, both in determining designs and patterns through purchasing power and by commissioning unique ensembles from seamstresses and tailors. Another theme is the theatrical power of fashion, and its ability to express individualism or collective solidarity, whether in a family portrait or Women’s Day Marches in communities across the continent. Finally, a link between imaging and fashion surfaces in each section of the exhibition. From formal portraiture to visual arts to ubiquitous African fashion calendars to street style photos shared by cellphone, it is clear that representations of fashion have always been a nuanced form of communication.
Fashion subtly communicates about place, heritage and belonging through such means as appropriation, pastiche and revival. Throughout the exhibition, African-print fashions are considered to be creative responses to key historical moments and empowering projections about Africa’s future.
“It All Starts with Cloth” addresses the history of African-print textiles, originally inspired by batik or wax-resist cloth from Indonesia. A dense grid of more than 60 cloths manufactured in Europe, Africa, and Asia evokes the vibrating colors and designs stocked in open-air markets and cloth shops across the African continent. A visual timeline of production across these regions outlines the history of the cloth trade in West and Central Africa from the 1800s to the present. Archival photographs and dramatic film footage of the Vlisco factory in operation transport audiences to the production of cloth in the Netherlands.
“Portraits in Print” leaves behind the brightly colored world of African-print fashion and enters an intimate black-and-white space of memory. A gallery introduces four photographers from Africa’s “golden age” of black-and-white photography in the1960s and 1970s: Francis Honny (Ghana, 1914–1998); Jacques Touselle (b. Cameroon, 1935); Omar Ly (Senegal, 1943–2016); and Mory Bamba (b. Mali, 1949). Their photography studios in newly independent West African countries provided a platform for an ascending middle class to see themselves and be seen by one another. The portraits are indicative of a historical moment when local African-print ensemble styles gained new significance as expressions of national and Pan-African pride and identity.
“Regional Styles, Fashion Preferences,” takes an in-depth look at localized contemporary African-print fashion whereby stylish dress is a feature of daily life. Ensembles on view from Cameroon, Côte d’Ivore, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal reflect an array of styles, all of them customized and individually made to order. This section presents a case study from Kumasi, Ghana to illustrate the interactive commissioning process between seamstresses or tailors and their fashion-conscious clientele. The bold patterns of the cloth engineered with subtle and striking variations in style reveal the ingenuity and flair of regional designers.
“New Directions” bridges regional cultures with transnational art and fashion networks, beginning with African-print styles on global runways in Paris, New York, Dakar and other cities. Designers in this section include Titi Ademola (b. London, based in Ghana), Ituen Bassey (b. Nigeria), Afua Dabanka (b. Germany, based in Ghana), Lisa Folawiyo (b. Nigeria), Adama Amanda Ndiaye (b. Democratic Republic of the Congo, based in Senegal), Alexis Temomanin (b. Côte d’Ivoire), Gilles Touré (b. Côte d’Ivoire) and Patricia Waota (b. Côte d’Ivoire). Ensembles on view feature full-length gowns and men’s blazers, metallic wax print and architectural pleating and boning.
Juxtaposed with these glamorous designs are contemporary works by photographers and other visual artists who incorporate print-cloth imagery to convey evocative messages about heritage, hybridity, displacement and aspiration. Works by photographers Omar Victor Diop (b. Senegal, 1980), Hassan Hajjaj (b. Morocco, 1960), and Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou (b. Benin, 1965) reveal the complex dialogues about aesthetics, identity, and globalization across history and geography The mural Johannesburg 2081 A.D. from fashion designer Walé Oyéjidé (b. Nigeria, 1981) working with muralist Lekan Jeyifo (b. Nigeria, 1981) is a futuristic rendering of the cityscape in which self-assured men of the future, stylishly attired in Ikiré Jones African-print jackets, stand before a mural of the South African flag, composed of images of anti-apartheid struggles.
Oyéjidé reflects on cloth’s heavy task as a medium but presents his ankara-inspired fashions within a larger written and imagistic narrative of history, asserting a revolutionary image of Africa moving forward: “There is elegance; even in the way we carry burdens that would bury most men.”
The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays from noon until 8 p.m., and Thursdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is free. Parking is available in Lot 4 for $3/hr. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit fowler.ucla.edu.
“African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style” is organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in association with Vlisco Netherlands B.V. It is guest curated by Suzanne Gott with Kristyne Loughran, Betsy Quick, and Leslie Rabine. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts with the additional support of R. L. Shep, DutchCulture, the Anawalt Program for the Study of Regional Dress, the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director’s Discretionary Fund, the Pasadena Art Alliance, Lee Bronson, and the Fowler Textile Council. Special thanks also go to Dr. Joy Simmons, Michael Gallis, and the many other donors who made gifts to the Fowler Museum’s 2016 UCLA Spark crowdfunding campaign. Educational outreach activities are made possible in part by the Eileen Harris Norton Foundation. In-kind support is provided by South African Airways. Media sponsor Koshie Mills is Founder and CEO of K3PR, a multi-media and publicity firm in Los Angeles.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog generously funded by the R. L. Shep Endowment Fund at the Fowler Museum. The publication includes essays authored by exhibition co-curators Suzanne Gott, Kristyne Loughran, Betsy Quick, and Leslie Rabine with additional essays contributed by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, Boatema Boateng, M. Amah Edoh, Helen Elands, Anne Grosfilley, Karen Tranberg-Hansen, Helen Jennings, Sandra Klopper, Stephan F. Miescher, Hansi Momodu-Gordon, John Picton, Elisha Renne, Victoria Rovine, Ken Aïcha Sy and Nina Sylvanus.
Selected related programs
Saturday, March 25, 6 to 7 p.m.
To celebrate the opening of African-Print Fashion Now! exhibition co-curator Suzanne Gott presents the dynamic story of this cloth: its inspiration in Indonesia, its manufacture in Europe, its African identity, and its current status in the global marketplace. Then co-curator Betsy Quick will converse with Ghanaian-Nigerian fashion designer Titi Ademola (KIKI Clothing) and British-Ivorian designer Alexis Temomanin (Dent de Man). Runway models will show off some of their recent designs. designs. Opening reception to follow, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Kids in the Courtyard: Prints and Patterns
Sunday March 26, 1 to 4 p.m.
What does our clothing communicate? Be inspired by the dazzling and colorful prints in “African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style” and create your own textile design. Take a selfie of your design creations in front of an African-print cloth backdrop.
For a full calendar of exhibition-related programs, please visit www.fowler.ucla.edu/events