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The V&A’s New Exhibition

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Imagine a small box. Inside the box is a gown made of muslin, a fabric so delicate and lightweight that you have to handle it with extra care. You take the dress out, place it on a mannequin and watch it unravel as it takes up more space than you could have imagined.
This is the experience that Dr Christine Checinska, senior curator of African diaspora fashion, had when unboxing designer Patience Torlowei’s Irene dress for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s next blockbuster exhibition, Africa Fashion.
The dress, made to symbolise femininity and the power of Black women taking up space, is just one design in a show curated to make a statement and celebrate the boundless talent coming out of Africa.
Africa Fashion opens this weekend (Saturday 2nd July) and runs until April 2023, and will be a platform for fashion creatives from over 20 African countries. Following on from previous exhibitions exploring subjects like handbags and kimonos, this highly anticipated show will feature hundreds of garments, textiles, photographs and everyday objects from African talent – and will hopefully change your mind about the scale of fashion in the continent and, more broadly, what it means to be African today...
It's no secret that museums in the Global North are almost all bound up with colonialism, misrepresentation and the theft of cultures. This exhibition – the UK’s biggest ever on the subject – aims to undo that.
"The story we had to tell was one of abundance and agency. And we had to tell it from multiple African perspectives," Checinska tells Refinery29. "It's about the power and impact of African creativity across fashion and textiles, which we very much put into the wider context of art, music and culture."
Split across two floors of the museum’s fashion space, the ground floor of the exhibition is dedicated to more historical pieces celebrating the renaissance of African culture, particularly during liberation from the mid 1950s to the mid 1990s. From fashion photography by James Barnor to family portraits sent in by the public, there's an intentional focus on real people.
On the mezzanine level, a more contemporary showcase explores themes such as beauty, delving into different skin tones, hair types and body shapes, while photographer Stephen Tayo's What If series showcases the lives of Nigerian drag queens.
One of the exhibition's main takeaways is that intersectionality is at the core of African cultures. Subjects like sustainability and gender neutrality are prerequisites of African fashion, rather than boxes to be ticked. You won’t see a section about sustainability within the exhibition because using raw materials and upcycling are instinctive for African designers. In the same vein, you won’t see gender-neutral clothing because many garments worn by all genders in Africa are inspired by ancient ways of dressing.
Checinska is vocal about this aspect and proud to display it on a massive scale at the V&A. "It's an incredible moment and it's a moment that had to be shown, showcased and represented [in the UK]," she says. "African creators across fashion, arts and music are 100% absolutely leading the way."
The exhibition aims to inspire visitors to engage more with fashion and culture from the continent, which can so often be incorrectly viewed as a developing region, in need of charity from countries like the UK. As an accompaniment to the exhibition, the V&A has also published a book of the same name, exploring fashion and culture in a post-independence Africa.
As with any museum exhibition, this is a chance to step outside of your everyday settings to explore, learn about and celebrate a world other than your own.Read more at:hot pink formal dresses | blue formal dresses
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