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Brooklyn Museum Celebrates Africa’s Cultural Renaissance in Largest North American Exhibition

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Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

Africa, often overlooked in the annals of history, is finally taking center stage in the cultural world, thanks to a remarkable exhibition titled “Africa Fashion” currently gracing the halls of the Brooklyn Museum. With over three hundred pieces spanning textiles, jewelry, music, film, and photography, this exhibition marks a significant milestone in celebrating Africa’s creative resurgence during its liberation years. Open to the public until October 22, it’s a must-see for anyone interested in the continent’s rich history and artistic expression.

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Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

African Liberation and Pan-Africanism

In the mid-20th century, Africa embarked on a journey towards decolonization, reclaiming its identity, and forging a path towards self-determination. The continent was emerging from a dark period in which nearly 90% of its landmass was under European control. It wasn’t until after World War II that native Africans began reclaiming their lands and their cultural identity. The last African country to secure its independence was Djibouti in 1977.

This period of liberation gave birth to the Pan-Africanism movement, which sought to unite people of African descent worldwide. As with any profound societal shift, Pan-Africanism left an indelible mark on art and culture, leading to the flourishing of creativity across various mediums, particularly in fashion.

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Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

Celebrating African Fashion Pioneers

The “Africa Fashion” exhibition traces the evolution of African artistry from the era of independence to the contemporary scene, with a special focus on fashion. It all begins with pioneering figures like Kofi Ansah, Shade Thomas-Fahm, and Naïma Bennis.

  • Kofi Ansah, a Ghanaian designer, was one of the first to blend traditional African textiles with modern fashion sensibilities, earning him international recognition.
  • Shade Thomas-Fahm, a Nigerian fashion icon, was known for her exquisite craftsmanship and innovative designs that celebrated African heritage.
  • Naïma Bennis, hailing from Morocco, made her mark by combining Moroccan craftsmanship with international fashion trends.

These trailblazers achieved international recognition while still firmly rooted in their home countries, setting the stage for Africa’s global cultural influence.

The Contemporary Scene

Continuing into the present, the exhibition showcases the work of contemporary creatives who continue to push the boundaries of African fashion and artistry.

  • Thebe Magugu, a South African designer, stands out for dressing global stars like Rihanna and collaborating with luxury brands such as Dior.
  • Gouled Ahmed, a multidisciplinary artist, exemplifies the emerging talent that’s capturing international attention with their unique creative expressions.
  • Daniel Obasi and Omar Victor Diop, two exceptional photographers, use their lenses to capture Africa’s beauty and complexity in striking ways.

A Diverse Array of Creatives

The “Africa Fashion” exhibition is a treasure trove of talent, featuring ensembles from brands like Maison ARTC and Orange Culture. In total, it showcases the works of more than forty designers and artists hailing from twenty African countries.

This extensive display underscores the continent’s vast cultural richness and its ability to resonate on a global scale. Visitors will encounter vibrant textiles, intricate jewelry, and captivating photography that reveal Africa’s multifaceted cultural heritage.

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Ensembles for the wedding of Ashley Shaw-Scott Adjaye and David Adjaye. Ghana, 2014. (Designed by Kofi Ansah, Photographed in London in 2014 by Robert Fairer)

“If you stop to think about it, the decolonization of Africa is something pretty recent,” says museum curator Sarah Johnson. “This exhibition seeks to bridge the gap in our collective understanding of Africa’s history and artistic contributions. It’s not just a fashion show; it’s a testament to Africa’s journey of liberation and self-expression.”

As visitors explore the stunning array of artistic creations on display, “Africa Fashion” serves as a poignant reminder that Africa’s cultural history is not just a part of the past but an integral thread in the global tapestry of art and creativity. This groundbreaking exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum invites us all to celebrate and appreciate the rich and diverse heritage of the African continent.

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