Fashion constitutes a system of rules of a highly singular kind, and functions as a trendsetter for social change. Currently, an innovative generation of African fashion designers is engaged in rethinking contemporary “African” fashion while establishing new designer hubs throughout the continent. It is however not solely a question of aesthetic aspects; even more important are forms of cultural and political engagement with an emphatically decolonized self-understanding.
At the moment, Generation Now is breaking up and subverting the hegemony of the “Western fashion system.” No longer will African culture serve solely as a source of inspiration for Western fashion designers. Closely associated with the topic of fashion is the topic of hair. Like fashion, hair—and with it “African” bodies—was a central arena for the exercise of colonial power; hair was disciplined, regimented, and subjected to Western ideals of beauty. Today, traditional African hairstyles—which to some extent vanished into obscurity as a consequence of colonialism—are being disseminated and made available once again. At the same time, they are being used with confidence in forms of play with hair as a mode of the creative expression of identity formation, with hair also increasingly shifting into focus as an artistic material.
The Kunstgewerbemuseum has invited a number of participants from Africa to develop new installation projects for our museum building, in the process initiating a new view of the museum context. The initial phase of the project was launched in November 2018 with a one-week workshop, with all of the participants gathering at the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum to discuss their installation projects as well as a range of project-relevant questions related to fashion, museum and collecting policies, and the discourse of decolonization. In a second step, the planned projects will be presented and discussed in the respective African hometowns of Kampala, Dakar, and Cotonou, and additional local participants will become involved. In a third phase which will begin in August of 2019, the results of this exchange will be presented back in Berlin at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in the form of installations, artistic interventions, pop-up exhibitions, performances, workshops, and roundtables.