First major UK exhibition on contemporary African fashion opens at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery


Photo by Victor Dlamini

PRESS RELEASE: The first major UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion will open 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 will consider recent and contemporary fashion practices in these distinctive metropoles, from couture to street style.

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** 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 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 will 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, 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 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 will also be 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
 will showcase 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.


Notes for Editors

  • 3.00+: interviews by arrangement: curators Helen Mears, Hannah Pool, Helen Jennings and Martin Pel, exhibition participants
  • 3.30: exhibition tour by Helen Mears (45 mins)
  • 5.30: press launch (RSVP): incl. free drinks on the museum balcony, with exhibition and community project participants and key people from the fields of African studies and fashion
  • 6.30: exhibition opening by Hannah Azieb Pool (RSVP), with Royal Pavilion & Museums Members.  Short speeches at 6.45–7.00 by Royal Pavilion & Museums Director Janita Bagshawe, Brighton & Hove City Council lead member for culture Alan Robbins, and journalist, author, commentator and exhibition consultant Hannah Azieb Pool.


For further information or to attend any of our launch 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
Tumblr on African fashion at Brighton Museums:
Twitter: @BrightonMuseums

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 Council England 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, music, dance and performance, workshops, young people’s activities, talks and debates.  Many activities will feature the individuals showcased in the exhibition.

A programme of activities in autumn 2016 will culminate in a landmark international conference, Creating African Fashion Histories, on Wednesday 2 November.

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

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.

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


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