The term ‘African designer’ can be ambiguous and reductive. Synonymous with tribal prints; the artistry and craftsmanship of traditional African techniques can often languish in the shadows of the fashion world. We caught up with London based luxury knitwear designer, Korlekie, to find out how she’s bringing these traditional techniques to the fashion forefront.
Why the name Korlekie? I was born in the UK to Ghanaian parents. Korlekie comes from my father’s tribe, the Ga-Adangbe and means ‘Queen of Eagles’.
Is your African heritage expressed in your designs? Being African is an intrinsic part of me, and I’m also inspired by other things. So, I wouldn’t say my designs are ‘African-inspired’ they just reflect who I am.
Is there an expectation to use prints in your designs? Some people have a narrow view on what ‘African’ is and expect to see printed fabrics in my collections. When they don’t, they ask, ‘so what’s African about your collection?’ African textiles are more than just wax prints, which originally came from Asia and were exported by the Dutch who brought them to Africa.
A white designer born in the UK wouldn’t be asked, “so what’s British about your collection?”
Art classes were the bane of my existence at school. I wasn’t born to paint (which is fine 🙂 and I realized that early on in life (with the help of a mean art teacher!). I’ve always envied those who can tell stories or capture moment with a sculpture or drawing.
I don’t really think of art as synonymous with Africans, and put that down to being raised in Europe where we’re force fed European art. I guess it’s also my fault for not being proactive in searching for African artists too! Academically, art isn’t a subject that is high on the agenda for most African parents in the diaspora or on the continent for that matter. Rarely are African children encouraged to purse their artistic side or made to believe it’s as a viable career choice.
African art and Artists are quite neglected compared to their European or American counterparts. The Foundation for Contemporary Art-Ghana (FCA), is one of its kind in the country, with a mission “to create an active network of artists, offer a platform for the presentation of contemporary art, and to develop a critical forum for the promotion of contemporary art in Ghana.” The growing collection of ‘Africa/ Africa Diaspora’ section of the resource centre focuses on artists working in Africa and its diaspora. After devastating floods in Ghana’s capital Accra, the FCA is asking for donations to rebuild the foundations headquarters and restore books and other valuables that were destroyed.
Dennis was apparently inspired to do the drawings after his friend was ridiculed by people in the street for wearing the traditional Ghanaian kente cloth. Dennis wanted to erase some of the ignorance surrounding an aspect of African culture.
Internationally celebrated Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who’s sculptures have taken prominent stages in New York and Sydney, is described as ‘reflecting devastation and colonisation’, in his work. Anatsui was winner of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2015 Venice Biennale.
This year, his work showcased in Sydney, is a celebration of 50 years of work. Comprising drawings, wall and floor installations, as well as woodcarvings incorporating West African adinkra symbols.
Renowned architect, David Adjaye’s structural designs can be found across continents. Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents; there’s no doubt his eclectic upbringing has contributed to his architectural prowess.
“By the time I was 14, I had lived in Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Nairobi, Cairo, Beirut, Accra and Jedda, and had quite a complex view of Africa.”
“Yes, the project has failed. It’s gated, it has security cameras everywhere and it has barbed wire. But that is because of the context we are in now. I hope that in 10 years or in five years this changes.”
Anyone who knows African culture is acutely aware that funerals are a big deal! There is no difference in Ghana, where craftsmanship is expressed throughout Ghanaian life, from the beginning to the end, literally! Who said a coffin was just a box?! Novelty coffins are becoming more and more popular in Ghana.
Creativity never likes being restricted, life experiences and cultures are the basis of any art form, whether it be song, dance, words, paintings or structures. Artists want to be known as just that….Artists.
“I have a genetic relationship to the continent, also a cultural and lived relationship. I now have an office in Ghana and other places [but] I am less interested in the definition than I am in the way I can use it to produce in the world.” David Adjaye, Architect.
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective
There’s a brown girl in the ring tra la la la la…. You may not be familiar with this opening line to the Jamaican nursery rhyme, but you would definitely have heard of Lupita Nyong’o! Various phrases have been associated with the African actress, such as, “Pride of Africa”, “the most beautiful woman in the world” “Lupita Nyong’o dress”; the latter more so than anything else at the moment. Her acting skills brought Lupita centre stage, but designer outfits such as the grasshopper green Gucci dress debuted at the 2015 Cannes film festival, which ended yesterday, also keep Lupita in the spotlight.
It’s said that Hollywood is where dreams come true but Lupita’s meteoric rise to fame after winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her first mainstream film, must have been written in destiny. Most actors have ‘a look’ about them; Lupita’s most conspicuous attribute is her skin, more accurately, it’s colour. Of course there are a few black actresses around but even in ‘black Hollywood’ we rarely see dark-skinned female actresses given a chance to display their skills let alone applauded for them. Unfortunately when a black actress steps onto the scene, it’s not just about the acting… skin complexion is usually part of the equation. Colourism, the fungus which keeps on spreading is still an issue in the African diaspora whether they are in Europe, the Americas or the Caribbean. However, it does exist in many parts of the world, including Asia, so isn’t just a ‘black problem’. It’s disheartening that the shade of skin has such a heavy influence on who is given opportunities and who isn’t, but this is the current scene of the world today. A dark-skinned African woman with short afro given a chance to shine and be celebrated in Hollywood (arguably the world’s stage for film and entertainment), is a bit of a misfit on the common narrative in this context. In April 2014 People Magazine, named Lupita the most “beautiful woman in the world”. With all the talk of her looks and red carpet dresses, it’s easy to forget that first and foremost Lupita is an actress and I’m glad to see that she is staying true to her love, after all beauty is only skin deep. I first saw Lupita in the African TV series Shuga, but was intrigued by her story like most people, once she garnered attention on the main stage. Lupita’s physical reflection is the opposite to what has been considered ‘acceptable’ by many (including black) cultures, especially in the entertainment business where looks are everything! She doesn’t have Nicki Minaj boobs and booty, which some believe is the epitome of the black female physique (real or surgically enhanced) celebrated in black culture, but she does have tightly coiled afro kinky hair and smooth onyx skin. We’re so used to NOT seeing female actress like her, that it was a shock when she appeared on international screens and the same can be said for Viola Davis.
No one is perfect but within that Lupita oozes confidence, humility and joy. There was a time when she didn’t like her own complexion and asked God to change it. However, her talent on the big screen is a breath of fresh air, inspiring other women from all walks of life as she is the latest person to put the spotlight on the general perception of beauty, which just like talent comes in many guises.
In my eyes, Lupita Nyong’o is An African ‘Affecter’.
Affect (verb): Have an effect on; make a difference to.