Fashion Cities Africa

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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 opens at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery on 30 April 2016.

Exploring fashion and style in four cities at the compass points of the African continent – Casablanca in Morocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Johannesburg in South Africa – Fashion Cities Africa considers recent and contemporary fashion practices in these distinctive metropoles, from couture to street style.

The exhibition focuses 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** 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 occupies three large galleries and includes diverse apparel from couture to street style, alongside images, film, sound and even elements of a tailor’s workshop evoking the drama, creativity and dynamism of the distinctive cities.  Highlights include:

  • New commissions, including by Nairobi-based brother and sister duo 2ManySiblings (
  • 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, 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, explores the relationship between fashion, identity and the African continent from a local perspective:

Fashion Cities Africa: Brighton Stories
South Balcony, 30 April to 28 August 2016

This display of striking life-size portrait images reveals the unique fashion identities created by members of Brighton & Hove’s African diaspora communities.

Fashion Cities Africa is part of Royal Pavilion & Museums’ 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, the Collecting Cultures project will involve museum staff working with a new collecting panel formed of African fashion specialists, to develop a new collection that reflects changes in African fashions 1960-2000. Running until 2017, the project will be delivered in partnership with academics from the University of Brighton and the Sussex Africa Centre at the University of Sussex.

Fashion Cities Africa is also accompanied by a book of the same name, edited by Hannah Azieb Pool with contributions by Helen Jennings (Intellect, April 2016, £20).  In it, Pool aims to correct misconceptions about African fashion, providing key context for contemporary African fashion scenes and capturing the depth and breadth of truly African fashion.

Filled with interviews with leading African fashion designers, stylists and commentators, Fashion
Cities Africa
  showcases street styles in the exhibition’s 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.  PDFs, and a limited number of review copies, are available on request.


Notes for Editors

For further information or to attend any of our activities please contact Jo Nightingale on or + 44 (0)1273 296718.  Please note that I work Mon, Tues and Thurs only – for urgent enquiries in my absence please contact or 03000 290906.




Exhibition and venue details

Fashion Cities Africa
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
30 April 2016 to 8 January 2017
Included in Museum admission fee/£3.50 residents, members and children free
Tumblr on African fashion at Brighton Museums:
Twitter: @BrightonMuseums

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


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

Fashion Cities Africa’s official media partner is


Exhibition inclusions


  • Marianne Fassler
  • Maria McCloy (styled looks)
  • Thula Sindi
  • The Sartists (styled looks using vintage)



  • Zhor Rais
  • Zineb Joundry
  • Amine Bendriouch
  • Yassine Morabet
  • Joseph Quechen (clothes worn by)
  • Amina Agueznay
  • Ghitta Laskrouif
  • Mouna Belgrini (clothes worn by)
  • Said Marouf
  • Jnoun



  • Sunny Dolat (styled looks)
  • Sauti Sol (clothes by Munga)
  • 2ManySiblings (styled looks using vintage)
  • Adele Dejak
  • The Nest Collective (clothes from the fashion film ‘To Catch a Dream’)



  • Lanre da Silva
  • Tiffany Amber
  • Mai Atafo
  • Onalaja
  • Meena
  • Orange Culture
  • Yegwa Ukpo/Stranger
  • Deloa Sagoe
  • Clan (Deola’s daughters)
  • Deola’s mother
  • Maki Oh
  • Jewel by Lisa
  • Ejiro
  • Adeju Thompson


Engagement activities

The exhibition is accompanied by a vibrant community engagement and events programme, including fashion shows, music, dance and performance, workshops, young people’s activities, talks and debates.  Many activities will feature the individuals showcased in the exhibition.

An activities programme in the autumn will culminate in a landmark international conference:

Creating African Fashion Histories
Wednesday 2 November (£50 full price, £35 concessions [lunch not included] *please note new, lower prices*), Old Courthouse lecture theatre
A one-day international conference with the Sussex Africa Centre, University of Sussex and the University of Brighton at the Old Courthouse lecture theatre, Brighton.  This conference will explore the possibilities and limitations of dress and fashion history to discuss current and past narratives in African fashion.  Panels will focus on the construction of African fashion histories, the role of African diasporas in the translation of African fashions, new directions in collecting and curating African fashion, and the significance of African cities in the development and dissemination of fashion.

Speakers include Hannah Azieb Pool, Helen Jennings, Carol Tulloch (author, The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora), Erica de Greef, Heather Akou (author, The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture) and Victoria Rovine (author, African Fashion, Global Style).

For event information and bookings: 03000 290902 /

An e-flyer is available for this conference.

Book details

Fashion Cities Africa
ISBN 9781783206117
Paperback 196 pages
Published April 2016 
Imprint: Intellect
Price £20, $28.5,id=5183

If you would like to review this book please contact


About the curatorial team

Helen Mears

Helen Mears 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.

Martin Pel

Martin Pel is Curator of Fashion at the Royal Pavilion & Museums, and studied art history at The University of Manchester and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He is co-author, with Barbara Hulanicki, of the V&A publication The Biba Years 1963 – 1975, and is currently writing on a book on Jazz Age fashion.

Hannah Azieb Pool

Eritrean-born, London-based journalist, author and commentator Hannah Azieb Pool writes regularly in the national and international media.   A Guardian journalist for over a decade, now freelance, she has also written for The Times, Vogue, Grazia and many others, and is a regular contributor to  BBC Radio, Africa Writes and Africa Gathering.

As Senior Programmer, Contemporary Culture at London’s Southbank Centre, Pool curates the talks and debates at the Africa Utopia festival and is one of the curators at the Women of the World (WOW) festival. Her first book, My Fathers’ Daughter (Penguin, 2005), was described by the Washington Post as ‘a significant and moving book’.

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.

About Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery is one of Britain’s oldest public museums.  Located in the Royal Pavilion Estate at the heart of the city’s cultural quarter, its collections showcase arts and crafts from across the world and history from Ancient Egypt to modern Brighton.

About the Art Fund


The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years the Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. The Art Fund also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, including ARTIST ROOMS and the 2013-18 Aspire tour of Tate’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators.


The Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 117,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 230 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibition. In addition to grant-giving, the Art Fund’s support for museums includes the annual Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year, a publications programme and a range of digital platforms.


Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at For further information please contact Madeline Adeane, Press Relations Manager, / 0207 225 4804


About the Heritage Lottery Fund


Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF invests money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery @HLFSouthEast