Africa Fashion Guide
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November 2nd, 2015

Exhibition announcement: Fashion Cities Africa | Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, UK | 30 April 2016 to 8 Jan 2017

Fashion Cities Africa

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Brighton, UK

30 April 2016 to 8 January 2017


The first major UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion will open at BrightonMuseum & Art Gallery in April 2016. 

Exploring fashion and style in four cities at the compass points of the African continent – Casablanca inMorocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Johannesburg in South Africa – Fashion Cities Africa will consider recent and contemporary fashion practices in these distinctive metropoles.

The exhibition will focus on the style choices of individual ‘fashion agents’ from each city; from designers and stylists to photographers and bloggers. Helen Mears, the Museum’s Keeper of World Art, Martin Pel, its Curator of Fashion & Textiles, Africa fashion specialists Hannah Azieb Pool and Helen Jennings and researcher Harriet Hughes visited the cities in summer 2015 (supported in part by the Art Fund through the Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants Programme) to explore their fashion scenes and identify key players.

Helen Mears says: “There’s been a surge of interest in contemporary African art and design in Europe and the US in recent years, but this is the first major UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion.  We want to reveal the diversity that exists across the continent – and within single cities – and show that wax print is only part of the story of African fashion.”

“Each of the cities featured has its own fashion scene: in some cases emergent, in others more established. Some African designers are now major players in international fashion, while others are experimenting creatively in the interface between global fashion and local identities. The exhibition aims to provide a snapshot of fashion practices in four specific cities and an introduction to some of the stories behind the style, whether it’s the widespread practice of tailoring or the impact of the huge market for second-hand European clothes.”

The exhibition will occupy three large galleries and include a wide range of apparel, from couture to street style – alongside images, film and sound evoking the drama, creativity and dynamism of the four distinctive metropoles.  Highlights will include:

  • New commissions, including by Nairobi-based brother and sister duo 2Many Siblings(
  • Controversial high-fashion outfits worn by one of Kenya’s hottest bands, Sauti Sol(MTV Europe’s Best African Act 2014)
  • Garments and accessories associated with The Sartists, a Johannesburg-based creative collective documenting their lives and style in post-apartheid South Africa(
  • Exquisite hand-crafted ‘caftan couture’ pieces by Casablanca-based designer Zhor Raïs
  • Apparel by Maki Oh (TBC), the internationally acclaimed Lagos-based label worn by figures including Michele Obama

A parallel project, undertaken by members of some of Brighton & Hove’s African diaspora communities, will explore the relationship between fashion, identity and the African continent from a local perspective. Powerful images from the project will accompany the exhibition.

Fashion Cities Africa is part of the wider project Fashioning Africa, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Collecting Cultures programme – which supports strategic collecting projects for museums, libraries and archives.

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery already holds an important collection of historical African textiles, mostly gathered 1880-1940.  Thanks to National Lottery players, Fashioning Africa will research recent developments and establish an African textile and fashion collection representing 1960-2000.  Running until 2017, the project has appointed a collecting panel from BAME and fashion communities, and will be delivered in partnership with the University of Brighton and the Sussex Africa Centre at theUniversity of Sussex.

Fashion Cities Africa will also be accompanied by a book of the same name, edited by Hannah Azieb Pool with contributions by Helen Jennings (Intellect, 2016, £20).  This will showcase street styles in the four cities through images of their fashion agents by high-profile fashion photographers (Sarah Waiswa, Victor Dlamini, Deborah Benzaquen and Lakin Ogunbanwo), accompanied by profiles and essays.

Exhibition and venue details

Fashion Cities Africa
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
30 April 2016 to 8 January 2017
Tumblr on African fashion at Brighton Museums:

Please note that the exhibition will open the weekend before the launch of Brighton Festival 2016.



Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the James Henry Green Charitable Trust, Arts CouncilEngland Major Partner Museum Programme, the Art Fund (Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants Programme) and the British Council.

Engagement activities


The exhibition will be accompanied by a vibrant community engagement and events programme, including fashion shows, a market, music, dance and performance, workshops, young people’s activities, talks and debates.  A landmark international conference, Creating African Fashion Histories, will be held on Wednesday 2 November 2016.


Many activities will feature the individuals showcased in the exhibition – full details TBA early in 2016.


About the curatorial team

Helen Mears

Helen is Keeper of World Art at the Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, a post she has held since 2008. Previously Helen was African Diaspora Research Fellow at the V&A. She is also a part-time AHRC-funded doctoral student at the University of Brighton.


Hannah Azieb Pool

Journalist, author and commentator Hannah Azieb Pool has written in the national and international media for over a decade.  As the Guardian’s beauty editor she wrote The New Black, the first ever beauty column for women of colour in a mainstream UK newspaper.  Former Associate Editor of ARISE magazine, her work appears in The Times, The Independent and Grazia and on BBC Radio.


Hannah is curator of talks and debates at the Southbank Centre’s Africa Utopia and Women of the World (WOW) festivals, and curated its Nelson Mandela tribute.  Her book, My Fathers’ Daughter, is a memoir of her journey to Eritrea to find her birth family.


Harriet Hughes

Harriet Hughes is a PhD candidate in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, jointly funded by Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and the University. Her doctoral research will feed directly into the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition.


Harriet is the former curator of World Art for the Museum and has worked with ethnographic collections for over ten years, including curating displays of African material and engagement projects.  She has particular interests in African dress, textiles and identity, the sociality of fashion production, and the anthropology of fashion and performance. She is also interested in the representation and display of contemporary African art and culture, and in exploring how academic research can be integrated into museum display.


Helen Jennings

Helen Jennings is a journalist, consultant and author. Formerly editor of Arise magazine, she is now editorial director of Nataal, the new global platform celebrating African fashion and culture. She is author of New African Fashion (2011, Prestel), a coffee table book about contemporary African style, beauty and photography, and has contributed to titles including Dazed, The Fader, iD, the Guardian, AnOther and Oyster.

 main image: 

Johannesburg: The Sartists (Wanda Lephoto, Xzavier Zulu, Kabelo Kungwane and Andile Buka)

Photographed by Victor Dlamini




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