decolonization through design
It is often said that the stories of history are written by its victors. But if this is true, what happens to the stories of the downtrodden? And how can they ever hope to aspire for something greater if they are never told the stories of their own glorious past?
Ostensibly, I stand before you as a mere maker of clothing. But within the folds of ancient fabrics and modern textiles, I have found a higher calling. Through my work as a designer, I’ve discovered the importance of providing representation for the marginalized members of our society.
And the importance of telling the most vulnerable among us that they no longer have to compromise themselves just so they can fit in with an uncompromising majority.
It turns out that fashion, a discipline that many of us consider to be trivial, can actually be a powerful tool for dismantling bias and bolstering the self image of under represented people.
My interest in using design as a vehicle for social change is a personal one. As a Nigerian-American, I know how easily the term “African” can slip from being a geographic descriptor to becoming a pejorative.
For those of us from this beautiful continent, to be African is to be inspired by culture and to be filled with undying hope for the future.
So, in an effort to shift the misguided perceptions that many hold about the place of my birth, I use design as a means to tell stories about joy, triumph and perseverance throughout the African diaspora.
No matter where any of us is from, each of us has been touched by the complicated histories that brought our families to a foreign land. These histories guide the way we view the world, and for better or worse, they shape the perceptions that we have of each other.
My work fuses aesthetics from different points across the globe and crafts a message about the importance of fighting for inclusivity.
By refashioning images from classic European art and marrying them with African aesthetics, I am able to recast people of color in roles of prominence. Providing them with a degree of dignity that they did not have in earlier times.
This approach reverses the commonly accepted narrative of African inferiority. And it serves as inspiration for people of color that have grown weary of being depicted without sophistication or grace.
Each of these culture-bending tapestries becomes a tailored garment, or a scarf, like the one I have on now. Even when couched in a structure of European classicism, the narratives proudly assert the notion of African empowerment. In this way, the works of the masters become tools to celebrate those who were once subservient.
This metaphor extends beyond the realm of art and is just as powerful in the real world. Whether worn by refugees or world changing entrepreneurs, when people are allowed the freedom to express themselves in a manner that celebrates their unique identities they become more confident, and those of us who are around them become more tolerant of their different points of view.
Thus, the clothes that we wear can serve as a bridge between seemingly disparate cultures.
And so, ostensibly, I stand before you as a mere maker of clothing. But my work as a designer has always been about more than fashion. It has become my purpose to rewrite the cultural narrative so that people of African descent can be seen in a new light and so that they can carry themselves with pride.
It is often said that the stories of history are written by its victors. But I am of a new generation. My work speaks for those who refuse to let their futures be dictated by a troubled past. Today, we stand ready to tell our stories without compromise and without apology. But the question remains, are you prepared for what you are about to hear?