Si Wi Yah: Sartorial Representations of the African Diaspora

When I was studying on the MA History and Culture course (now called MA Fashion Cultures) at London College of Fashion, I learnt many things about fashion/costume/dress and met some amazing people. I learnt a lot from the academics who taught us, but also from my inspirational coursemates who asked questions I’d never have thought of and started discussions on topics I’d not yet considered. One of the people I have perhaps learnt the most from is Teleica Kirkland, who I first mentioned on this blog back in 2014 when her first exhibition Tartan: Its Journey Through the African Diaspora opened in London.

In addition to lecturing and continuing her research Teleica is also the founder, Creative Director and principal researcher for the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora (CIAD), and their next big project is fast approaching! The first CIAD Biennial Dress Conference will take place over two days in May 2018 in London, with a day of academic presentations and a day of hands-on workshops. The website gives this introduction to the event:

This, CIAD’s first dress conference of the African Diaspora, seeks to understand how African Diaspora communities came to be visually represented or have developed the agency to represent themselves and establish their identities through clothing and adornment.

People of African heritage have been moved across the globe, through forced or self-determined migration in the western hemisphere, for hundreds of years. As they came to settle in various corners of the globe, the retention of their African origins mixed with their new environments and other cultures and have developed the myriad of different communities that make up the African Diaspora.

Colonial textbooks have suggested that people on the continent of Africa, had little in the way of material or sartorial culture, with which to distinguish themselves and certainly nothing to rival the elegance of Europe. It is fair to say that not only has historic style and culture coming out of Africa been of the merit and quality on a par with Europe, but that oftentimes what has come out of the continent has been of such total opposite to the considerations of Europe that the eminence has been unrecognisable by historical westernised anthropologists and writers.

Having been transplanted in one way or another into different countries and communities around the world, people of African heritage have often helped to shape and enhance the culture of the countries within which they have found themselves.

The Friday conference programme covers a lot of fascinating topics – including 1950s colonial Jamaica, queer black women’s style, early 19th century Caribbean culture, sartorial innovation in Haitian Vodou, and saga bwoys, rude bwoys + saggers – with keynotes from Carol Tulloch (Professor of Diaspora and Transnationalism, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL) and Laduma Ngxokolo (knitwear designer). Saturday’s hands-on workshops give you a chance to try out head-wrapping styles, create an emblem that visually represents what you believe the African Diaspora to be, and to discover Yorb indigo dyed textiles.

Si Wi Yah; Sartorial Representations of the African Diaspora is taking place on Friday 4th May 2018 (conference) at London College of Fashion and Saturday 5th May 2018 (workshops) at Senate House, University of London. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.

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