‘African-Print Fashion Now’ introduces visitors to a dynamic and diverse African dress tradition and the increasingly interconnected fashion worlds that it inhabits: “popular” African-print styles created by local seamstresses and tailors across the continent; international runway fashions designed by Africa’s newest generation of couturiers; and boundary-breaking, transnational, and youth styles favored in Africa’s urban centers. All feature the colorful, boldly designed, manufactured cotton textiles that have come to be known as “African-print cloth.”
The exhibition tells the global stories of these textiles—the early history of the print cloth trade in West and Central Africa, the expansion of production following independence movements, and the increasing popularity of Asian-made print cloth today. Popular African styles from Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Senegal are featured, as well as groundbreaking runway fashions by some of Africa’s most talented couturiers: Ituen Basi, Gilles Touré, Lanre da Silva Ajayi, Titi Ademola, Lisa Folawiyo, Dent de Man, Adama Paris, Patricia Waota, Ikiré Jones, and Afua Dabanka. Black-and-white studio portraits illuminate print fashions of the 1960s and 1970s, while works by contemporary artists incorporate African print to convey evocative messages about heritage, hybridity, displacement, and aspiration.
Contemporary photographs by Omar Victor Diop, Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, and Hassan Hajjaj; paintings by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga; and a mural by graffiti artist Docta suggest the ever-present role of fashion in African life. Throughout the exhibition, African-print fashions are considered as creative responses to key historical moments and the imaginings of Africa in the future.
Vlisco, founded in 1846, began exporting factory printed cloth to West Africa around 1876. Over the years Vlisco absorbed several Dutch textile manufacturers that also produced wax prints for the market prior to World War I. Today it is the last surviving European wax-resist textile manufacturer. The Vlisco brand is manufactured in Helmond, Netherlands and is the premier brand of the Vlisco group which includes three other brands, GTP and Woodin made in Ghana and Uniwax produced in Cote d’Ivoire. Each brand caters to a distinct segment of the market.