Creating African Fashion Histories examines the stark disjuncture between African self-fashioning and museum practices. Conventionally, African clothing, textiles, and body adornments were classified by museums as examples of trade goods, art, and ethnographic materials—never as "fashion." Counterposing the dynamism of African fashion with museums' historic holdings thus provides a unique way of confronting ways in which coloniality persists in knowledge and institutions today. This volume brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and curators to debate sources and approaches for constructing African fashion histories and to examine their potential for decolonizing museums, fashion studies, and global cultural history.
The editors of this volume seek to answer questions such as: How can researchers use museum collections to reveal traces of past self-fashioning that are obscured by racialized forms of knowledge and institutional practice? How can archival, visual, oral, ethnographic, and online sources be deployed to capture the diversity of African sartorial pasts? How can scholars and curators decolonize the Eurocentric frames of thinking encapsulated in historic collections and current curricula? Can new collections of African fashion decolonize museum practice?
From Moroccan fashion bloggers to upmarket Lagos designers, the voices in this ground-breaking collection reveal fascinating histories and geographies of circulation within and beyond the continent and its diasporic communities.
1. Introduction: Creating African Fashion Histories: Politics, Museums, and Sartorial Practices, by JoAnn McGregor Part I: Constructing African Fashion Histories 2. Historicizing Fashion in Western Africa: Global Linkages, Regional Markets, and Local Tastes, 1400-1850, by Jody Benjamin
3. Finding Fashion in the Museum: (Re)Assembling a Precolonial Eastern African Fashion Moment, by Sarah Fee
4. Beloved, Ignored, and Contested: The Politics of Kente in Ghana since the 1960s, by Malika Kraamer Part II: Transmitting and Translating African Fashion Identities 5. Translocal Subjectivities, Space, and Aesthetics: The World of Nigerian Fashion, by Harriet Hughes
6. Fabric in the Fashion Photography of Omar Victor Diop, by Beth Buggenhagen
7. "There Was No Fashion in Morocco Before": (Re)Creating Contemporary Moroccan Fashion History, by M. Angela Jansen
8. Unrest and Dress: The Symbol of the Sycamore Tree in Oromo Adornment, by Peri M. Klemm Part III: Collecting, Curating, and Displaying Africa Fashions 9. Stories behind the Collections and Why They Matter: Examples from Indiana University, by Heather Akou
10. Refashioning Clothing Collections in South African Museums, by Erica de Greef
11. Fashioning Africa: Using a New Collection of Dress to Decolonize Museum Practice, by Edith Ojo, Helen Mears, and Nicola Stylianou
JoAnn McGregor is lecturer in geography at the University of Reading.
Jody Benjamin is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. His research and teaching interests include West Africa (Senegal, Mali, Guinea), textiles, dress, fashion history, African Atlantic migration, diaspora, and intellectual history.
Beth Buggenhagen is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. She is author of Muslim Families in Global Senegal: Money Takes Care of Shame and editor (with Anne-Maria Makhulu and Stephen Jackson) of Hard Work, Hard Times: Global Volatility and African Subjectivities.
"Creating African Fashion Histories is an innovative and timely publication that marks a welcome turn in the writing of global fashion histories and the curation of works by Africa's historic and contemporary fashion creatives. This agenda-setting volume brings museum and sartorial practices into critical dialogue for the first time. The book is divided into three sections, each flowing organically onto the next. The first focusses on constructing fashion histories, the second on translations of fashion identities, and the third on new approaches to fashion curation that acknowledge our imperial and colonial pasts, whilst moving forward in an equitable manner. The contributing authors eloquently examine the tangled relationship between power, knowledge production, and the confounding misrepresentation of the continent—its people, histories and cultures—using African fashions as a starting point. The range of geographic locations featured, from Morocco to South Africa and Ghana to the Swahili coast, alongside the number of perspectives incorporated, present African fashions as varied and ever-changing. Close attention is paid to the political, economic, and cultural contexts that have shaped and continue to shape both fashion scenes and museum collections. These elements combine to suggest new ways of understanding and mapping not only African fashion histories, but the complexities of global cultural histories as a whole."—Christine Checinska, Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum
"This book is an important contribution at the intersection of fashion history, museum curatorial studies, and anti-colonial intellectual practice. Like the exhibition from which it comes, this work 'underlines both the urgent need for, and obstacles facing, efforts to bring about significant institutional change' within museums when it comes to the collection and display of African creative products. Thus, it is a work of importance for our times, as a reflection point for those engaged in the display of African fashion collections. As decolonization debates continue and many museums remain at the forefront of their subsumption into a neoliberal rhetoric that serves to maintain rather than disrupt the status quo, this volume's essays and the ideas they explore keep vital debates not only relevant, but useful for those who truly work toward continuing to disentangle museums from their colonial foundations. This thought-work is action, in critique of the dominant colonial paradigm. Read it."—Davinia Gregory-Kameka, Columbia University