Just had a few days in Brighton on the southern coast of England. I was attending a one-day meeting on Fashioning Africa, which is a project organised by the Royal Pavilion and Museums. The Project is about looking at, talking about and collecting African fashion, both traditional/classic forms as well as items made by specific fashion designers in various countries, including Ghana and Nigeria.
The meetings were very well attended, with colleagues, students and other interested people from all over Britain (and one from Holland) attending and taking part. There were two sessions, one with lectures and an afternoon session focusing on objects. For the first time ever I was described as a global textile specialist! I quite like the title.... now to make it true. Anyway, going back to the morning talks, it was fascinating hearing from the various speakers and how they approached the subject, the question of ethical collecting, and why should a British museum collect African garments? However, the question was turned around by referring to the large Afro-British population here, therefore why would you NOT collect items that represent their cultural background?
The afternoon session was spent looking at various groups of objects and explaining some of the different ways of looking at them, why were they made, what are they saying, etc. Participants moved from one table to another. There were tables with woven, dyed, and embellished forms, and some specialists explaining. At my table (embellished), I was not sure whether I had said the same things to all the groups, or had missed things out, let alone talked about all the objects. But the questions, comments and suggestions kept me going. There were some really interesting points made.
There was also a mystery object that the museum had put on my table..... Anyway, it turned out to be an Egyptian appliqué, something I know a little about as we had an exhibition on this subject at the TRC some years ago (for the TRC digital Egyptian appliqué exhibition, click here). Quite a relief.
One thing that was clear is that people's knowledge of fashion was good, but lacking in how to recognise basics, such as what is made of cotton, what is hand sewn, different types of weaves and embellishments. It has made me really think hard about a 5-day intensive textile course just on African textiles. If you are interested let me know and I will see what we can arrange with Brighton.
It was good having the chance to talk with colleagues, see people I had not seen for a while (including several who had been to Leiden on the normal 5-day intensive textile course), and to meet with students and enthousiasts with a passion for textiles and the stories they can tell.
Gillian Vogelsang, 1st October 2017