The V&A’s latest exhibition is an unbridled celebration of African culture

Christine Checinska’s excitement is palpable when talking about the first day of the Africa Fashion installation, which marks the culmination of two years of research for the Victoria & Albert Museum conservative. Since Checinska joined the museum as curator of African fashion and the African diaspora in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the renowned art historian and former womenswear designer (who started working on the exhibition just days after taking office) worked tirelessly on Africa. Fashion.

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The visionary behind the highly anticipated exhibition which pays homage to decades of African pioneers and features 45 designers from over 20 countries – including an accompanying book filled with contributions from notable figures such as Orange Culture’s Adebayo Oke-Lawal and art historian Gus Casely-Hayford – has a newfound enthusiasm for the richly diverse and innovative talent emerging from the continent. “The incredible creatives coming out of Africa cannot be denied. If you look at what’s happening in fashion – music and the arts too – I think African designers are leading the charge when it comes to cutting-edge contemporary trends – and that’s what makes this exhibition so timely,” says Checinska .

After months of analyzing garments from her computer screen, the chief curator explains that there’s nothing quite like examining the exquisite pieces up close. “One of the most defining moments of this experience happened when an incredible hand-embroidered piece by Moroccan designer Artsi Ifrach arrived,” says Checinska, while recalling the memorable moment when she unboxed for the first time the coat made by the founder of Maison ARTC. ‘It was a real Jack-in-the-box moment when the garment came to life. It is adorned with small sequins and has a crinoline skirt underneath that holds it up.

Spread over two floors, Africa Fashion focuses on several sections: Cultural Renaissance, Politics and Poetics of Fabric, The Avant-Garde, Capturing Change, Minimalist, Mixologist, Afrotopia, Adornment, Artisan, Co-Creation and Across the photographer’s lens.

The exhibition explores the multiple facets of African style from the mid-1950s to the present day, to show that across the African diaspora, fashion is indefinable and not monolithic.

african fashion v and a

Cultural Renaissance kicks off the exhibition because “the era of independence is so inspiring across the continent, even today,” says Christine. Politics and Poetics of Cloth, for example, explores the importance of fabric in many countries; Afrotopia features a stellar look from the Alchemy Fall/Winter 2021 collection by LVMH award winner Thebe Magugu, and elsewhere, intimate family portraits of audience members immortalized in the exhibition (one of Checinska’s favorite sections, quote she).

“We invited members of the public to send in post-independence fashions, be it clothes, fabrics or photographs. We have 10 families represented and the stories around them, and it melts your heart because we can all relate and have family images we cherish from decades ago.

Africa Fashion opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum on July 2 and will run until April 2023

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