Category Archives: African Art


Shawn Theodore, Fanm Jade Ble (Blue Jade Woman), 2019

Shawn Theodore: Night Stars
A Solo Exhibition of New Work
February 26 – March 20, 2021

February 11, 2021 (Philadelphia, PA) – Paradigm Gallery is pleased to present Night Stars, a solo exhibition of new photographic work by interdisciplinary artist Shawn Theodore. Night Stars is an expansion of Theodore’s investigation into a space he calls ‘Afromythology’, which unites
the real and imaginary histories and futures of African Americans. In Night Stars, Theodore widens this space by melding together the traditions of African indigo making and the magical powers of water and stars.

The evocative exhibition illuminates the space where they all converge, a body of work that is a deep, deep blue. Night Stars marks the first exhibition at Paradigm with the artist. Night Stars is open to the public from February 26 – March 20th with an opening event on Friday, February 26th at 5:30PM.

Theodore makes connections, finds linked points and intersections within the past and seeing what is repeated in the current he identifies recurring themes, like spirituality. Spirituality has been passed on from generation to generation, and is something that is ostensibly part of the Black experience, but it is not something you can see or touch; it happens without direct knowledge, just faith.

In Night Stars, Theodore looks deeper for where instances of faith happen such as in music, quilt making or code switching. All of these hold examples of coded language, subversive art and intent and Night Stars is constructed from these metaphysical bridges. Bridges like quilts that were used to smuggle secret messages guiding people to freedom, far beyond the maker’s own physical passing. Or the Dogon tribe of West Africa, who were master astronomers.

They believed that their ancestors were descendants of a species from the Sirius star system eight and half light years away and to be free meant going back home. Though they were physically limited, their collective celestial knowledge somehow traveled across time and space to other groups of Black people who used it to understand the same set of stars that were used in the same way: to be led to freedom. ‘Afromyth’ sits upon these bridges.

The works in Night Stars are a series of statuesque portraits, monuments within a vast space of blue. Blue is a multi-tiered reference within the exhibition. The color is known to ward off evil in African and African American culture and Theodore questions how that symbolic signal came to
be and why it still holds that power today.

The artist says, “To create in blue, one must first understand its powerful nature. There has to be a world that exists inside of the color. A spiritual process is happening that is begging us to look inside of it, and somewhere within it are answers”. Theodore connects the symbolic color to the 19th century process of cyanotype.

The artist has always been fascinated by the historic practice, which produces a cyan-blue print; however, it is extremely rare to find a Black subject in one of these prints. Rather than shooting in cyanotype, Theodore uses it as a guideline, photographing his subjects using blue filters and blue cast lights.

The resulting works are less historic than they are revolutionary. On the series Theodore says, “Featured in this collection are portraits made of bejeweled deities in the indigo-hued ether, the fervor of fête revelers, the quiet stillness amongst the dense foliage and haints of Low Country of South Carolina, possession in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and sunrise reverence at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. At the center is the viewer, who stands at the bardos of these seemingly disjointed experiences, their presence unifying the real and unreal”.

Photography often acts as a fast route to see the past, but what is beyond the camera’s sight? Subconsciously, the brain creates narratives beyond physical photographs, beyond what we logically know or see. These leaps are our imagined archives and it’s within their boundless possibilities that Night Stars lives, filling the gaps.

*Due to COVID-19, “Night Stars” will be open for regular weekend hours with limited capacity and is available to view by private appointments during the week until further notice. The digital exhibition twin is available on for viewing from home. These policies are dependent on the current policies of the CDC, WHO and the Governor and Mayor’s offices. Paradigm Gallery’s number one priority is the safety and wellness of their visitors. For live updates on the exhibition and appointments, please visit the Paradigm website and socials. For any questions on Paradigm’s current policies, please email

About Shawn Theodore
Shawn Theodore (b. 1970, Germany) is an award-winning photographer whose work opens broad conversations regarding the role of the photographer in the shaping of agency and imagery, engages in new forms of storytelling, and impacts the trajectory of the collective black consciousness.

Theodore has participated in exhibitions at various institutions, galleries and fairs, including the African American Museum in Philadelphia (2017, 2018), Mennello Museum of American Art (2018), The Barnes Foundation (2017, 2018, 2019), Steven Kasher Gallery (2018), AIPAD (2018, 2019), Hudson Valley Community College (2018), Catherine Edelman Gallery (2017), The Bakalar & Paine Galleries at MassArt (2017), Snap! Orlando (2018), Richard Beavers Gallery (2018), PRIZM Art Fair, Scope Art Fair, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Rush Arts Gallery (2017, 2018), and the University of the Arts (2019).

His commercial projects include works for Apple, Showtime Networks, RocNation, PAPER Magazine, New York Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, The Atlantic, The New York Times, PDN and others.
Theodore was awarded the prestigious PDN’s 30 New & Emerging Photographers to Watch (2019), the Getty Images / ARRAY ‘Where We Stand’ (2018) grant and a grant from the Knight Foundation for ‘A Dream Deferred’ (2018). He is a two-time nominee of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage Fellowship, and a nominee of the Magnum Foundation Fund.

Theodore earned his BA in JPRA (Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising) from Temple University. He currently attends the MFA for Photography program at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD Atlanta). Theodore is a current trustee of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center.

About Paradigm Gallery
Paradigm Gallery + Studio® was established in 2010 by co-founders and curators, Jason Chen and Sara McCorriston. The gallery exhibits meaningful, process-intense contemporary artwork from around the world. Now open 11 years, Paradigm Gallery is globally recognized and known as a tastemaker within their greater Philadelphia arts community. As the gallery grows, it maintains its original mission to keep art accessible. Through monthly donations, free public art installations, and initiatives like Insider Picks, Paradigm Gallery, continues to be a champion of small businesses and emerging and mid-career artists.

746 S 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
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Jamea Richmond-Edwards Explores Detroit’s Fashion and Style in 7 Mile Girls


Artist Talk & Opening Reception at Rowan University Art Gallery: Thursday, November 7, 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

GLASSBORO, NJ – Rowan University Art Gallery presents 7 Mile Girls, an exhibition exploring the connection between Black female style of Detroit’s inner city, with designer fashion and self-empowerment. Featuring several new works by artist Jamea Richmond-Edwards alongside paintings loaned by the Rubell Family Collection, the exhibition will run November 7 – December 21, 2019, with an opening reception on Thursday, November 7 from 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. 

Richmond-Edwards grew up observing the Black community’s fashion style in Detroit’s inner-city during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Popular and idolized were Coogi sweaters, red gators, and designer bags from Gucci and Louis Vuitton. She understood the correlation of the fashion industry around the Black female experience and their complex relationship with luxury clothing.  

Jamea Richmond-Edwards Explores Detroit's Fashion and Style in 7 Mile Girls
Jamea Richmond-Edwards 2018, Shirt with Lace Heart, 72 x 128″, Image Courtesy Kravets Wehby Gallery

The artifice of dressing became the driving narrative of her work and her form of Black aesthetic and expression. She was particularly interested in how her work confronted social disparities and the inequitable practices and tone-deaf decisions continually made by the fashion house of H&M, Adidas, Gucci, and Prada. In opposition to the market focus of these brands her imagery is inspired by the styles of Black designers who have made a positive impact on the fashion perspective, particularly Dapper Dan for Gucci, and the work of Duro Olowu, alongside influences of artists coming out of AfriCOBRA and the Black Arts Movement.

The title 7 Mile Girlsrefers to the street in Detroit where Richmond-Edwards grew up and where she encountered many of the female subjects in her paintings. Inspired by women in her life, the central female figures in her paintings confront the viewer with an air of confidence and agency as guardians of Black culture.  Across her multi-layered collages, the artist conveys the complex intersection of Black style, capitalism, fashion, and personal identity through the lens of these resilient Black women.

Jamea Richmond-Edwards 2019, Two Sisters and the Horned Serpent, 8 x 6 feet, Image Courtesy of Kravets Wehby Gallery

Jamea Richmond-Edwards
graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Jackson State University in 2004 where she studied painting and drawing. She went on to earn an MFA from Howard University in 2012. She offers a repertoire of portraits of women drawn using ink, graphite and mixed media collage. Richmond-Edward’s work has garnered the attention of various art critics including in the Washington Post and the Huffington Post’s “Black Artists: 30 Contemporary Art Makers Under 40 You Should Know”. Richmond-Edwards has exhibited her artwork nationally and internationally including the Delaware Art Museum, California African American Museum, Charles Wright Museum in Detroit, MI, and Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore, Maryland. Her works are in the permanent collection of private collectors across the country including the Embassy of the United States in Dakar, Senegal. She currently resides in Maryland with her Husband and three sons. 

Rowan University Art Gallery
serves as a premier cultural destination for South Jersey, the Rowan community, and surrounding region. Our mission is to provide a platform for discourse on best practices in contemporary art by professional artists, curators, and scholars through the presentation of interdisciplinary art exhibitions, panel discussions, guest curatorial projects, and other public programming. 

The Gallery has a history of programming that recognizes the achievements of women in the visual arts with group and one person exhibitions that included: Beverly Semmes (2011), Joyce Kozloff (2014), Jeanie Jaffe (2015), Diane Burko (2018), Heather Ujiie (2018), Ebony G. Patterson (2019), and Julie Heffernan (2019). Its permanent collection includes the groundbreaking and historic installation The Sister Chapel.

This exhibition is presented with the generous support of the Joseph Robert Foundation. Support for programming at Rowan University Art Galleries is also made possible by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information please visit:


301 High St W, Glassboro, NJ 08028, 856-256-4521

Visit us online at and follow us on Facebook @RowanGallery.  #RowanGallery #7MileGirls


Monday – Friday, 10 am – 5 pm 

Saturday, 12 pm – 5 pm

Public parking is available in the Mick Drive Parking Garage across the street from the gallery. Admission to the gallery, lecture, and reception is free and open to the public.

Thank you to Chelsea Markowitz for the content of this post.

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Holiday Bazaar, ID8

IDEATE Holiday Bazaar, Art Show and Sale

IDEATE, Sherman Mills Art Center, 3502 Scotts Lane, building 16, suite 1616, East Falls, PA.

Saturday, December 17th, 10:00am – 4:00pm

Participating artists include award winners, Jameir Andrews, Tyrike Brown, Alonzo Troy Humphrey, Oranit Solomonov and musician Mel G. The IDEATErs having been preparing holiday themed gifts, greeting cards, artwork, housewares, furniture and even a new music CD for this festive open studio.

Jameir Andrews is an award winning painter, creating vibrant colorful abstract patterns on canvas. His recognizable style has gained him a strong following, if you’re a collector, now is a great opportunity to expand your collection or start a new one. Jamier’s body of work is expansive – buy several for a great art display for your home.

IDEATE Holiday Bazaar Art Sale

Tyrike Brown is a poet. The poignant emotion and sentiment his words express are printed on unique custom greeting cards with a distinct esthetic of an old soul in a youthful man. Not only does Tyrike write, he works with Illustrator to create designs that are then cut into rich papers with delightful surprises peaking through the openings.

IDEATE Holiday Bazaar Art Sale

Alonzo Troy Humphrey is currently showing work in three downtown galleries but currently his solo show, SCORE!!!, installed in the studio represents a career spanning exhibition of his drawings installed and curated by head IDEATEr Kaelynne. Alonzo’s work includes African, Southern, transportation and animal themed artworks. But his drawings of figures of the Black Cowboy, the lady in the rocking chair and African chiefs are mesmerizing. If you’re a collector now is the time to buy since everything is less than $20.! Alonzo’s greeting cards depicting happy or grumpy Santa are signed and numbered, perfect for framing. Or give them to your kids to color.

IDEATE Holiday Bazaar Art Sale

Oranit Solomonov is an award winning outsider artist who has created a series of hand colored Hanukkah cards that are very special and suitable for framing. The holiday cards are limited edition, signed and numbered and would make great gifts that your friends will cherish. Oranit has created custom decorated Mary Jane slippers that are one of a kind. Stylish prints, drawings and paintings are for sale, too.

IDEATE Holiday Bazaar Art Sale

Artwork and crafts by members of the IDEATE team will be on display, exhibiting the skills, talents and empathic abilities of the extraordinary group that makes the world of art more open and welcoming than you can imagine.

Located in Sherman Mills Art Center the team of Social Practice artists referred to as IDEATErs turn career goals into real work. The studio/office serves as a hub towards including artists with cognitive disabilities in the wider community by running an art business. The talented team helps to develop inherent artistic talents for those who want to work in the world of art. Art is a hard job, it’s not just about creating beautiful work, getting the artwork in front of the public takes a team willing to take risks and push boundaries.

“IDEATE is an inclusive employment organization dedicated to providing trauma-informed support to individuals with barriers to getting and sustaining earning opportunities. Our mission is to support our clients to identify and retain person-tailored occupations. We want to redefine “work,” one person at a time while leveling the playing field using technology. In order to support our clients in person-tailored work, our fundamental approach focuses on empowerment, choice, safety, trustworthiness, and collaboration. We seek to identify any barriers and overcome them by building inclusive employment solutions. Our practice is designed to support self-actualization and inclusion. We do this by offering support in community-based employment, including customized employment, alternative staffing, a deep-dive into technology-based accommodations and the development of formalized innovative practices wherein the individuals can cultivate natural supports especially in careers where our participants are under-represented.” – RHD

Visit IDEATE at Sherman Mills, your holidays will be happier and happier.

Written by DoN Brewer

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kere4Laongo CSPS Clinic, Designed by Francis Kéré, Burkinabe, active Berlin, Photograph © Kéré ArchitecturePhiladelphia Museum of Art

The Architecture of Francis Kéré, Building for Community, Philadelphia Museum of Art

May 14 – September 25, 2016, Collab GalleryPhiladelphia Museum of Art

Francis Kéré is an internationally renowned, Berlin ­based architect who integrates traditional knowledge and craft skills into innovative and sustainable buildings worldwide. As the first son of the head of Gando, his home village in Burkina Faso, he was the only child allowed to attend school in a large city; he later studied architecture in Europe. While still a student, he began to reinvest his knowledge back into his community, building schools that would change its future trajectory.

In Gando, Kéré combined traditional Burkinabé building techniques with modern engineering methods, maximizing local materials and community participation to reduce costs and ecological impact—a practice common to many of the projects highlighted in this exhibition. His work in Gando has become a catalyst for further development: the men and women he trained in construction techniques can now use their skills to earn incomes for their families. Students in his schools have gone on to pursue higher education and aspire to circumstances that were considered impossible before.   kere7Primary school in Gando, Burkina Faso, completed 2001, Designed by Francis Kéré, Burkinabe, active Berlin, Photograph by Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Harnessing the success of the Gando initiative, Kéré founded his Berlin office in 2005 and has since garnered acclaim for his work elsewhere in Western Africa and, more recently, in Europe and North America. He is the recipient of the 2014 Schelling Architecture Foundation Award, the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, and the BSI Swiss Architectural Award, among others.

kere3Gando School Library, Designed by Francis Kéré, Burkinabe, active Berlin, Photograph © Kéré Architecture

This school consists of nine modules that house a series of classrooms and administrative offices. The laterite stone walls, undulating off-white ceiling, and unique wind-towers exponentially reduce the interior temperature.

Secondary School, 2007 / Dano

Consisting of three classrooms, a computer room, and office space, this school is built mostly of widely available laterite stone and features a permeable ceiling, a corrugated sheet roof, and shaded windows that ensure natural ventilation. The laterite refining process and the ventilation system illustrate Kéré’s innovative techniques utilizing local handicraft.

Francis Kéré, Building for CommunityGando School Extension, Designed by Francis Kéré, Burkinabe, active Berlin, Photograph by Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk

Primary School , 2001 / Gando

To ensure a natural and sustainable cooling system in an extremely hot region, the roof over the classrooms is elevated from the interior construction; underneath, a perforated clay ceiling allows for maximum ventilation.

Canopy Shelter and Shade

The tree is a primal form of shelter. Four fundamental elements of architecture can be extracted from the various parts of the tree: canopy, structure, gathering place, and shadow. The canopy, as a general concept of various roof and ceiling enclosures, is an architectural cornerstone in Kéré’s work. Constructions in hot, arid places like Burkina Faso depend on innovative shade-making devices that allow ventilation and cooling without the need for electricity, as well as overhangs that provide protection from torrential rains. This video’s skyward perspective presents the importance of canopies in Burkina Faso, from village trees to traditional ceilings made of clay and thatch, to Kéré’s roof constructions at different stages of completion.

kere6Gando School Library, Designed by Francis Kéré, Burkinabe, active Berlin, Photograph © Kéré Architecture

Building with Community

Reflecting the accessibility of Kéré’s building process, this video shows one of his most recent projects: the Lycée Schorge school in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. Unlike most modern construction sites in the West, which are strictly off-limits to the public, the Schorge site is left open for the surrounding villagers to observe. This process demystifies the act of building, allowing the public to slowly accept and sometimes even contribute to the new construction. Every stage of the project, including mounting the ceiling trusses and facade elements, fabricating the classroom furniture, and painting the interiors and window shutters, is performed without the use of heavy machinery.

The chairs in this space were made by a local fabricator in Philadelphia using the same design that Kéré created for schools in Burkina Faso. The Francis Kéré Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are pleased to offer these fifteen chairs for sale at the close of the exhibition to support Kéré’s further work in Gando. If you would like to reserve one or more chairs, please visit the Museum Store in this building for further details.

Diébédo Francis Kéré: How to build with clay… and community

Sharing Knowledge

Whether in a classroom with chalkboards and desks, or under a great baobab tree with logs and stones, the survival and prosperity of each new generation relies heavily on the transmission of knowledge. Gathering is not only a function of social occasions, it is also how ideas are discussed and spread. Shadow symbolizes this place of coming together. Visitors are invited to sit within this gathering space.


While natural hardwood forests are rare in Burkina Faso, the fast-growing eucalyptus tree provides a useful source of timber. This species is considered a nuisance in the region because it provides little shade and leaches moisture from the soil, exacerbating the problems of desertification. Despite its limited structural strength, it can still be made into screens, interior finishes, furniture, and even secondary facade systems that shade and protect buildings from wind and rain. Through the process of testing and prototyping, Kéré’s firm is also exploring new solutions for reinforcing the material for structural applications.


Burkinabés have long built with clay, extracting it from the earth, processing it by hand, and using it in a variety of architectural and craft elements, from walls to hand-built pottery. For the Gando School Library, Kéré pioneered a new use for local clay, casting sections of large pots into the ceiling to provide natural ventilation and lighting. Made by local women, the pots were transported to the building site on foot, involving the community’s expertise and participation. More recently, Kéré engineered an innovative way to cast the clay into reusable molds, creating wall systems that can be replicated for use in modular buildings.


Bricks play a crucial role in Kéré’s architectural practice. Whether cast from clay or cut from locally extracted laterite stone, the simple form of the brick can be used to create sophisticated architectural forms and building systems. With or without mortar, bricks can be used in walls, ceilings, and floors. Different systems of stacking and bonding can produce a permeable boundary, allowing air and light to pass through. Thick brick walls also create a thermal mass, which, together with adequate ventilation and shading, helps to maintain a comfortably cool interior space.

School Furniture

To offset the costs of transporting building materials to remote sites with extremely limited means, Kéré and his team came up with ingenious ways to use every scrap of material left over from construction. Using steel rebar and plywood, the team built customized chairs and desks for school students and staff. Every bend and weld was carefully calculated to streamline production time and costs. The furniture was produced on-site with simple hand tools and jigs. A particularly striking detail is the rubber “shoe” made by hand from recycled automobile tires.

Architecture of Community

Despite the many differences between the city of Philadelphia and the village of Gando in Burkina Faso, where Francis Kéré was born, the installation in this atrium emphasizes the human-scale domestic architecture of both places and the sense of community such a design produces. In the plan of this space, Kéré overlaid the geometric grid of William Penn’s Philadelphia — represented by the regular placement of the frames that support the hanging parachute cord enclosures — with the irregular disposition of the enclosures themselves, mimicking the organic development of a Burkinabé village. The installation also features sounds collected from both Burkina Faso and Philadelphia, reinforcing the concept of community and shared space. The hanging parachute cord material may appear first as an obstacle, but on entering and interacting with the installation, the visitor will perceive that the material is a unifying, enclosing element that creates common spaces that must be negotiated and shared.

It Takes a Village

Conceived by Kéré Architecture and designed in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Curatorial, Exhibition Design, and Editorial and Graphic Design teams, this exhibition has fostered an exchange of ideas, traditions, and experiences between Africa, Europe, and the United States. Thanks to the eager participation of many members of the Museum staff and volunteers, the Young Friends Executive Board and event committee, students from the University of Pennsylvania Undergraduate Program in Architecture, and the general public to help fabricate components, this installation truly represents the coming together of a community. In addition, the Philadelphia Museum of Art would like to acknowledge Richard Wesley, for facilitating the UPenn collaboration; Larry Spitz, Carol Klein, and Sasha Barrett, who generously offered their services in creating the red clay pots to suggest the Gando Library ceiling; and David Cann and James Bassett-Cann, for their help in the realization of the atrium installation.

Photography is OK, but please no flash.

Social Media: #CreativeAfrica 

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art is Philadelphia’s art museum. We are a landmark building. A world-renowned collection. A place that welcomes everyone. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone. We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable. We are committed to inviting visitors to see the world—and themselves—anew through the beauty and expressive power of the arts.

Thank you to The Philadelphia Museum of Art for the content of this post.

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Canopy, The Architecture of Francis Kere #donartnews #art #philadelphia #pma #architectureporn

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Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global StagePrinted Textile, 2005. Made by Vlisco, Helmond, Netherlands, founded 1846. Cotton plain weave, wax‑resist print, 12 feet × 47 1/2 inches (365.8 × 120.7 cm). Private Collection, ©Vlisco

Creative Africa, Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Through January 22, 2017

Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building

The Philadelphia Museum of Art celebrates West and Central African fashion and culture in an exhibition exploring the classic and contemporary looks of Vlisco, the oldest international textile brand that specializes in Dutch wax fabrics. From the earliest designs and most recognizable patterns, continuing through a selection of iconic styles that have been re-interpreted in a contemporary way, the exhibition will highlight a selection of the thousands of patterns Vlisco has produced for the African and diaspora markets.

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global StagePrinted Textile, 2005. Made by Vlisco, Helmond, Netherlands, founded 1846. Cotton plain weave, wax‑resist print, 12 feet × 47 1/2 inches (365.8 × 120.7 cm). Private Collection, ©Vlisco

Dilys Blum, The Museum’s Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles and organizer of this exhibition, said: “The wax-printed fabrics long associated with Central and West Africa have a surprising history that is truly global.  Many of the patterns shown in this display tell stories and convey images that reflect Africa’s past and reimagine its future. For this special presentation in Philadelphia, we are celebrating the transnational character of Vlisco by showing the company’s classic designs, these classics re-imagined, and new contemporary patterns, sharing how fashion designers in West Africa and other parts of the world use Vlisco wax fabrics today.”

When cloth leaves the factory it is generally identified only by a stock number. The women who trade in the open-air markets in African cities, and their customers, assign the patterns names inspired by current events, politics, religion, and material culture. The exhibition explores the ways in which such patterns acquire social meaning, status, and value and become culturally assimilated into African society, and examine how designs can have many interpretations depending on where they are used.

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global StagePrinted Textile, Late 20th century. Made by Vlisco, Helmond, Netherlands, founded 1846. Cotton plain weave, wax‑resist print, 36 × 47 1/2 inches (91.4 × 120.7 cm). Private Collection, © Vlisco

Among the classic patterns represented are the “Happy Family” egg motif, featuring an image of a hen surrounded by her chicks and chicks-to-be referencing the importance of family, and the “Fallen Tree” pattern that acts as a visual substitute for a proverb that teaches unity and strength in Ghana. The “Alphabet” design symbolizes the value that Africans place on education, and “Swallows”, a symbol of good luck, refers to the transience of riches. The classic “Swallows” pattern was worn by flight attendants for Air Afrique in the 1970s. The display will show how this particular pattern has been reinterpreted to include airplane imagery, a symbol of globalization.

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage“La Famille” Printed Textile, 1952. Made by Vlisco, Helmond, Netherlands, founded 1846. Cotton plain weave, wax‑resist print, 18 feet × 47 1/4 inches (548.6 × 120 cm). Private Collection, © Vlisco

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage“Angelina” Printed Textile, 1962. Made by Vlisco, Helmond, Netherlands, founded 1846. Cotton plain weave, wax‑resist print, 70 × 48 1/4 inches (177.8 × 122.6 cm). Private Collection, © Vlisco

The “Eye” pattern, one of the most enduring European designs for the African market, appears in the exhibition in multiple variations and colors.  The original design of 1904 by the Haarlem Cotton Company was inspired by the Egyptian god Horus, a symbol of protection, royal power, and good health.  Some of the eye patterns were intended to silently communicate and identify with a woman’s family and marital relationships.  In Nigeria, the original Haarlem pattern is known as “Eyes”. In Côte d’Ivoire, it is called “Bull’s Eye” and is worn by a woman to show a man that she desires him.  Also in Côte d’Ivoire, the classic “Jumping Horse” pattern expresses rivalry between co-wives.  In Nigeria, Igbo women favor this design for family to express unity at their annual women’s meeting.

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global StageDazzling Graphics Collection, 2011, Made by Vlisco, Helmond, Netherlands, Photograph courtesy of Vlisco

The exhibition will touch upon the rise of the most successful market women in Togo, called the Nana Benz, who traded in wax prints beginning in the 1930s. The Nana Benz were essential to the success or failure of the designs.  Wholesalers to other market traders, the women provided Vlisco agents with information on customer preferences. In return, the women were often given exclusive access to certain designs.  A playful design featuring the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star logo pays homage to these traders, as this was their car of choice and became a symbol of their success.  In another design, the Vlisco logo on the radiator grill replaces the car’s original trademark. 

Displayed on mannequins in the center of the gallery is an installation of contemporary designs using the wax fabrics as created by African, diaspora and other international designers. 

One of Nigeria’s foremost fashion designers, Lanre da Silva Ajayi, who is known for her ultra-feminine looks and elegant use of prints, has collaborated with Vlisco on numerous projects including a gala dress on view in the exhibition.  The designer’s ensemble is made in a limited-edition shimmering gold print embellished with the designer’s signature beads and sequins.

Owner and creative director Araba Stephens Akompi of the Ghanaian fashion house Stylista has reconfigured patterns showing a Spanish fan to create a flamenco-style dress with a distinctively African twist. Stylista sees this gala dress as an evolution of the traditional Ghanaian blouse with a matching skirt.

The exhibition features ensembles by Vlisco’s senior fashion designer from 2008 to 2016, Inge van Lierop, who was responsible for translating each seasonal concept into stylish ensembles used for marketing. A strapless, two-piece wedding dress made from two color ways of the same design is embellished with beads, as is the veil, which was embroidered in India. Deconstructed and made into a late 1960s-style mini dress that pays homage to the decade when the design first achieved popularity, the classic “Angelina” pattern associated with the dashiki a loose tunic worn by men and women is updated and re-colored in luminous pastels for a more contemporary look.

The fashions of Manish Arora, one of today’s most inspiring designers, fuse his Indian roots, global style, and contemporary popular culture.  This year, Arora has collaborated with Vlisco for his ready-to-wear collection shown recently in Paris and inspired by the American West.  For his ensemble on display, he has re-interpreted wax prints into knit fabrics. 

Ikiré Jones of Philadelphia, led by Nigerian-American menswear designer, Walé Oyéjidé, shows how the designs can be creatively cut and mixed together for unique looks.  His  hand-tailored trousers, and a jacket made of Vlisco fabric, are accessorized with a storytelling scarf.

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage

Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage is one of five exhibitions in the Perelman Building this season, accompanied by related programs that feature a broad spectrum of the arts from across the African continent. They feature historical works of art as well as contemporary fashion, photography, design, and architecture. Each calls attention to the continuities and differences between African art forms over the centuries.

The related exhibitions are:

Look Again: Contemporary Perspectives on African Art, a major exhibition drawn from the collection of the Penn Museum (May 14 through December 4, 2016).

Threads of Tradition, focusing on the traditional patterns in West and Central African textiles and the techniques used to create them, including strip weaving, resist dyeing, piecing, appliqué, and embroidery (Through January 2017).

The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building for Community, featuring a site-specific, immersive environment designed by this world-renowned Burkina-Faso-born architect (May 14–September 25, 2016).

Three Photographers/Six Cities presents an in-depth look at three photographers who create powerful pictures of African cities: Cairo, Egypt; Nairobi, Kenya; Lagos, Nigeria; Johannesburg, South Africa; Bamako, and Tombouctou (Timbuktu), Mali. From Akinbode Akinbiyi’s observation of urban centers and Seydou Camara’s examination of Islamic manuscripts to Ananias Léki Dago’s pictures of offbeat locales, the images offer unique perspectives on contemporary African experience (Through September 25, 2016).

Curator: Dilys Blum, The Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles

Location: Joan Spain Gallery

About Vlisco

Vlisco, founded in 1846, began exporting factory printed cloth to West Africa around 1876. Over the years Vlisco absorbed several Dutch textile manufacturers that also produced wax prints for the market prior to World War I. Today it is the last surviving European wax-resist textile manufacturer. The Vlisco brand is manufactured in Helmond, Netherlands and is the premier brand of the Vlisco group which includes three other brands, GTP and Woodin made in Ghana and Uniwax produced in Cote d’Ivoire. Each brand caters to a distinct segment of the market.

Social Media: #CreativeAfrica 

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art is Philadelphia’s art museum. We are a landmark building. A world-renowned collection. A place that welcomes everyone. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone. We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable. We are committed to inviting visitors to see the world—and themselves—anew through the beauty and expressive power of the arts.

Thank you to The Philadelphia Museum of Art for the content of this post.

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