Textile Arts Council Lecture: "African-Print Textiles in Ghana: ‘Popular’ Fashion, Cosmopolitan Style"
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Madam Theresah Osei, a prominent wholesale and retail African-print trader in her downtown shop. Photo: Suzanne Gott, Kumasi, Ghana, June 2005.
African-print fashion—fashions based on the colorful, boldly patterned ‘African-print’ cloth produced especially for the West and Central African consumers for over a century—encapsulates the historical depth and contemporary complexity of Africa’s globalizing relationships with the larger world. In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, African-print fashion has become an increasingly globalized and dynamic terrain, with significant changes taking place both in style and in the nature of African-print cloth itself.
African-print cloth is a special category of manufactured cotton textiles, with origins that can be traced back to the Indian subcontinent’s production of painted and block-printed cottons for the Indian Ocean trade. The handcrafted Javanese batiks inspired by these Indian imports beginning in the eleventh century, in turn, inspired Dutch manufacturers’ early nineteenth-century imitations, leading to the late nineteenth/early twentieth-century European development of so-called ‘African prints’ for the West and Central African markets. From the beginning, the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) had the distinction of being European textile companies’ first and most important market for African-print textiles.
Decades of African-print production geared to local tastes and desires instilled a strong sense of ownership among West and Central African consumers that became especially evident in the mid-twentieth century during Africa’s independence era, when local African-print ensemble styles gained new significance as expressions of emerging national identities. For many of today’s fashion-conscious West and Central African citizens, it is this continuing combination of African-print cloth and fashion design that makes contemporary fashion truly African.
This presentation will explore the ways in which historical and contemporary developments in African-print production, consumption, and style have been shaped and expressed in one of African-print fashion’s earliest and most enduring contexts, the ‘popular’ fashion system of southern Ghana. The historical trajectory of popular African-print fashion and its twenty-first-century transformations reveal the global expansiveness and creative vitality of Africa’s fashion cultures.
Dr. Suzanne Gott (Associate Professor, Department of Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus) is an art historian specializing in the arts and visual culture of southern Ghana. She has researched and published on African-print fashion in Ghana since 1990 and is co-editor of the book, Contemporary African Fashion (2010). She headed the curatorial team for the 2017-2019 traveling exhibition and book, African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style, developed with the Fowler Museum at UCLA.
Free for current members of the Textile Arts Council (TAC); $5 for students and members of FAMSF; $10 General Admission.
Contact InformationTextile Arts Council