The Africa Fashion exhibition opens at the Brooklyn Museum this week with an extraordinary offering of works from the continent over the past 70 years. As many African nations gained independence in the mid-20th century, a liberated artistic expression took the nation by storm and has only strengthened since. Africa Fashion celebrates the global impact of designers and artists from the start of the independence era in the 1950s to today.
The show, which originated last summer at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, has been adapted for the Brooklyn Museum by Ernestine White-Mifetu, Sills Foundation curator of African Art, and Annissa Malvoisin, Bard Graduate Center/Brooklyn Museum postdoctoral fellow in the Arts of Africa. It features more than 180 works, including immersive displays of haute couture and ready-to-wear garments, film, textiles, and jewelry, many that are borrowed from the Brooklyn Museum itself.
“This exhibition is an important presentation of African creativity that highlights not only fashion but also the dynamic diversity of talent coming from the continent,” says White-Mifetu. “I am elated that our New York visitors will have the opportunity to engage with the creative production of Africa in new ways.”
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The exhibition highlights a new generation of fashion designers and creatives, including Tokyo James, South Africa-based Thebe Magugu, and Nigerian Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s label, Orange Culture. It also features New York–based designers Christopher John Rogers, Brother Vellies’ Aurora James, and Papa Oppong, who recently won the Fashion Trust U.S. Graduate Award.
Also debuting is the first-of-its-kind curated retail experience at the Brooklyn Museum in collaboration with the award-winning Lagos concept store Alára. The exhibition shop will feature exclusive collaborations, evolving trunk shows, and works by artists across the continent. Many of the designers are highlighted in Africa Fashion, including Christie Brown, Tongoro, and Lafalaise Dion. Reni Folawiyo, Alára’s founder, tells Oprah Daily, “It was important for me to bring designers that I really love. There’s personal connections to the brands: knowing the work that goes into the pieces and appreciating that. The shop really is a curation dedicated to the craftsmen.”
The store will have different collaborations and drops over the next few months. Some of the participating designers include Nigerian skateboard brand Wafflesncream, Paris-based Air Afrique, and Lagos Space Programme by Nigerian designer Adeju Thompson. Thompson, who also won this year’s International Woolmark Prize, will have a capsule celebrating the art of Nigerian indigo.
Folawiyo and her team worked with the museum's entrepreneur in residence Rachel Shechtman and retail director Kate Foley to bring the Alára concept to American audiences for the first time.
“I’m excited about the collaboration and the fact that we have the opportunity to bring Africa to New York. The Brooklyn Museum represents a lot of what we believe in. It’s community-based. It has meaningful projects,” says Folawiyo. “I’m excited to connect with our diaspora. We also have some New York–based designers in the space. We’re trying to make that connection so that we’re not so far away from each other, and that we have a place where we can connect things we love.”
Select items are available for sale on the Alára at Brooklyn Museum microsite, which will also have new offerings throughout the exhibition’s run.
Tickets for Africa Fashion can be purchased through the museum here. The exhibition will be showing at the Brooklyn Museum now through October 22, and is made possible by lead sponsor Bank of America with major support provided by Alára.