© Alison Moloney
© Alison Moloney
© Alison Moloney
© Alison Moloney
25 May 2018
by Alison Moloney
Alison Moloney, Curator at the London College of Fashion (LCF), is one of the six Fellows awarded British Council Art Connects Us research grant, which supports our vision to develop stronger creative sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa and connections with the UK. Below Alison reports on her recent travels to meet South Africa's fashion scene and development on her reseach project.
As a curator, I am interested in the ways in which museums and archives in South Africa collect and present their histories through fashion and clothing and, how this is represented within gallery displays. The British Council’s Art Connects Us grant, enabled me to undertake preliminary research for a potential exhibition, which would present the work of an emerging group of young South African artists, who work with clothing as metaphors, and who, within their work, are expressing attitudes towards race, gender and class which has hitherto been stifled. Amongst these artists are The Sartists, Tony Gum and Unathi Mkonto.
This emergent group of South African artists who have rarely, if ever, seen representation of their generation, or generations before them, within museum contexts, have developed their own progressive approach to fashion presentation and frequently present work within a contemporary art gallery context; such as Gallery MOMO.
Gallery MOMO hosted a talk during my visit titled: Breaking the Mould: Fashion Curation for New Style Re-Publics. Through the panel discussion we questioned if what Walter Benjamin says is true - that fashion is “the mould in which modernity is cast” - what does that mean for our contemporary moment, when new technology has so drastically expanded accessibility to cultural production? The panel discussion included: Quaid Heneke (QUEEZY), Lesiba Mabitsela, Sarah Hugo Hamman, and Luke Doman with a Q&A facilitated by dress historian and curator Erica de Greef and myself.
Whilst in Cape Town I also met with Josh Ginsburg Director: A4 ARTS Foundation a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the arts in southern Africa. The building opened in September 2017 and encompass a gallery or project space, a multimedia library, and an archive - as well as private studio and workshop spaces. At the time of my visit there was an installation by Unathi Mkonto who studied architecture at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and then trained in fashion. Unathi had recently completed residency at A4 where he produced an installation based on his experiments with high performance materials such as Velcro, based on his desire to make work which is not immediately identified as ‘South African’ and as such he works with everyday materials which are available globally.
In Johannesburg I spent time in Maboneng, a district known for its artists’ studios and galleries including William Kentridge, David Krut Projects and The Cosmopolitan, which opened in 2016 to house a Hotel, a restaurant & bar, Tea Room, luxury retail stores and gallery, including a sculpture garden. I met with The Sartists in Maboneng, a collective comprised of Andile Buka, Kabelo Kungwane, Wanda Lephoto and Xzavier Zulu – who through their work 'challenge parochial ideas about blackness in modern society, taking considered, autodidactic and documentary approach to style and identity.' The collective met at high school and worked together rummaging through the secondhand European clothes at the Salvation Army looking for treasures which they would then sell to clients, amongst them lawyers, who sought expensive wool and tweed suits which they would find. They started to put together photographic series of images – most famously their sports images – which they would then sell on to brands such as Adidas. They focused on sports, because during apartheid sport was “the only way to get out”. Their work was recently displayed in Paolo Antonelli’s exhibition at MoMA, New York, entitled Is Fashion Modern?
This research visit also facilitated on-going conversations with Erica de Greef, who has recently been appointed as the Senior Curator of the Costume Institute, Zeitz MOCCA and will be speaking at London College of Fashion on 4th June. Erica has contributed to the development of fashion thinking in South Africa, predominantly in the context of fashion education, promoting research in local fashion histories and practices. Erica’s talk will be framed by her PhD thesis which investigates the conditions, politics and ideologies that informed (and continue to mark) the dress/fashion collections and exhibitions of South African public museums, with a focus on the recently merged Iziko Museums. Her talk will focus on two pairs of similar looking beaded trousers which were accessioned into two different clothing collections, and how this affected their biographies and museal lives, but also how these objects trouble the ethnographic framing of tradition and modernity, history and culture. Erica shares with us some of her alternative, imaginative and accessible approaches to the re-thinking of these sartorial objects and the structures that hold them.
Fashion and dress exhibitions in South Africa are, as yet, an untapped medium. The opening of the Costume Institute, Zeitz MOCCA, in the autumn of 2018 will transform the presentation of dress within the South African context and will undoubtedly have a ripple affect across the continent.