LEVER designed "Africa Fashion" at the Portland Art Museum, the exhibition is a tribute to the richness and diversity of African creativity, cultures, and histories through the medium of fashion. Stretching across time from the late 19th century to the present, the exhibition encompasses garments, textiles, and objects complemented by cultural touchstones such as books, magazines, records, and photographs. From traditional fabrics to the post-liberation era, it captures the transformative influence of self-fashioning and the remarkable variety of contemporary clothing designs emanating from the African continent.
Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Curated by the V&A’s Christine Checinska, Ph.D., Senior Curator of African and Diaspora Textiles and Fashion, with Project Curator Elisabeth Murray. Curated for Portland Art Museum by Julia Dolan, Ph.D., The Portland Art Museum’s Minor White Senior Curator of Photography.
In designing the exhibition, LEVER structured the galleries to unfold a narrative reflecting key historical periods, highlighting the richness of Africa's fashion creatives. The exhibition begins with an introductory section, followed by a journey through the past and present, ultimately guiding visitors towards the future. The initial gallery contextualizes the region's history, showcasing ancestral fabrics and providing insight into the social scene from the late '50s and early '60s. This sets the stage for exploring the intrinsic relationship between fashion and resistance in post-colonial Africa. The exhibition then transitions to the first wave of African fashion designers gaining international recognition, culminating in a present-day celebration within an expansive room.
The past and present galleries adopt a grid structure that evolves into an organic experience. The exhibition's color palette subtly references the flags of all African countries, reinforcing the idea of the viewer's journey being rooted in the past and tradition. This connection is emphasized through the deliberate containment of garments within casework, frames, and walls, symbolically anchoring the viewer to the historical and traditional context. The strategic placement of items within these confines serves to ground the viewer, underscoring the connection between the garments and their historical significance, fostering a sense of rootedness in the journey through the exhibition.
Conversely, the journey into the contemporary era takes a vibrant turn, offering a more immersive experience. A single, amorphous platform holds freestanding mannequins against an eye-catching pink backdrop, inspired by contemporary African artists like Oluwole Omofemi and Amoako Boafo. This design choice allows viewers to intimately engage with the garments from any perspective, creating a boundless and joyful experience.
LEVER's design includes a single, organic display in the final gallery. This platform serves as a unifying element, inviting visitors to admire contemporary garments from all angles. The intentional arrangement fosters a sense of cohesion, symbolizing the interconnectedness of diverse cultures across the continent. By presenting the garments on a singular platform, the exhibition's design reinforces the idea that, just like the varied fashion pieces, Africa's cultures are interconnected, forming a collective identity that transcends geographical boundaries.