An evening at the V&A Africa Fashion exhibition

Posted on January 27, 2023

On Tuesday evening, the Creative Access community was given exclusive, out of hours access to the Africa Fashion exhibit. Not only this, but the curator, Christine Checinska, held an honest, thoughtful talk on the how she successfully navigates being a creative of colour and the responsibility she undertook to tell the story of a continent.

“The event gave me insight into museums as creative spaces and the cocreation process of exhibitions. I do not work in the museum space, so I liked that. I found it really intellectually stimulating and rich.”

Feedback from an attendee

Christine, who not only curates, but is an artist, designs and writes, spoke briefly on her three-decade background within the arts industry, which began with a 6-month internship at the Institute of International Visual Arts. The exhibition is a true testament to her and her team’s ability to invite gallery goers through a journey of all 54 countries in Africa; each medium, be it garment, photography or film, writing Africa back into history as being a pioneer at the forefront of techniques such as print, tailoring and pattern.

The exhibit is carefully crafted, beginning with a striking hot-pink two piece, working to “trouble expectations” and “shake stereotypes” of what we believe African fashion should be. As you walk through, you’re met with kente cloth, and fabrics which, with political figures printed on, which allowed individuals to literally wear their stances on their sleeve. The whole display, which covers two floors, is cyclical in structure, a nod to the unifying nature of fashion in Africa, and its constant resurgence in pop culture. Even the mannequins – the design headed by Rachael Lee, senior conservator – were specially made and took two years. They were based on model Adhel Bol, and made into several skin tones and hairstyles adding something unique to each look, representing the beauty and diversity of African people.

“I learnt a lot about important cultural themes with deep dive into specific stories, artists, traditions, and creators. Christine shared lots of inspirational wisdom and tips on working in the arts; she was knowledgeable and an engaging speaker; it was thoroughly a pleasure to hear her speak.”

Feedback from an attendee

This V&A exhibition is surprisingly also the first of its kind, as no other exhibit has retraced African fashion, and endeavoured to tell the story from the perspective of not only designers, but the ordinary people, unaware that their fashion choices would be documented this way. A large bulk of the pieces are donated from people’s wardrobes, and Christine comments on the collectiveness this creates: “a coming together of difference” that makes up a conscious celebration of the scene. There is even one piece included by an unknown designer, a choice that honours the individuals lost to time, but still able to leave their mark.

When asked about making her own mark, and the pressure that comes with representing a mass as a curator in an industry that isn’t very diverse, Christine said “there are more curators of colour than you’d expect, they’re hidden in plain sight”.  She continued by saying she doesn’t think of herself as being part of the “decolonization camp” but rather works to discover what happens in between, understanding the importance of things such as creolisation and unity despite difference. Her nature is one of maturity, and willingness to “pass the mic to others”, understanding that your weaknesses are not always bad, but can often be complimented by others’ strengths to facilitate beautiful examples of creativity.

“It was inspiring seeing a curator of colour so I will take away the feeling that it is possible to advance in the sector.”

Feedback from an attendee

If you can, we’d really recommend you see the exhibit before it’s closing in April. Following this, it will tour the world until 2026 with opportunities for pop-up shows with local curators. Please do look at the V&A website also, as they offer amazing sessions for young people, as well as many other interesting exhibits to go and see. A huge thank you to Christine, Rachael and the V&A team for hosting our first masterclass of the year!

See you soon!