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Telling Stories in Rwanda

4 September 2018
by Hannah Robinson

Against the backdrop of a country which has recently banned the importation of second hand clothing, there is a new generation of practitioners who are designing a positive future for the local fashion industry, whilst forming a new and powerful narrative for ‘Made in Rwanda’.

During Collective RW Fashion Week, a workshop brought together designers from Rwanda, East Africa and the UK to explore the body, disability and fashion in collaboration with performers and choreographers. The focus was on developing cross-disciplinary practice and exploring how fashion and dance can be used as a creative catalyst to challenge preconceptions of identity.

A collective of designers leading Kigali’s fashion movement, Collective RW, participated in the workshop with British fashion brand Teatum Jones and Scottish designer Rhys McKenna. From Kigali’s performing arts community, a collective of disabled artists including dancers Emilienne Uwahenimama, Valentin Dusabe, Claire Mukanganizi and spoken word artist Anisia Byukusenge participated in the workshop with Rwandan choreographer Wesley Ruzibiza.

Examining how the fashion design process can include the needs of the disabled, first hand interactions formed the centre of the research and experimentation process. Over three days the group explored three research touch points: the human subject, the body and a human interaction.

Rob Jones of Teatum Jones, led a session on pro-social and inclusive fashion on day one, expressing the importance of individual human stories within their own practice, having worked with both disabled models and Paralympic athletes in developing past collections. The workshop participants began to consider alternative lines of research within their own practices and in multi-disciplinary groups, they selected a human story to focus on creatively portraying over the upcoming days.

Challenging the conventional design processes on day two, Rhys McKenna led a design challenge which sought to use the body, and other participant’s bodies, as a research and design tool. Practitioners experimented with creating garments that freely and creatively accommodated for different ranges of motion, movement and body types.

During the workshop, the performance artists were integral in leading their groups, in demonstrating how they chose to tell their own personal stories through movement, physical theatre and spoken word poetry. By the final session, a series of live performance and fashion concepts were presented which represented self-selected ideas from the groups working iteratively.

Whilst acting a catalyst to form new networks between the international participants, the workshop also formed a research & development space for the upcoming international dance festival, East Africa Nights of Tolerance. Exploring the potential of fashion to nurture change, and amplify a positive message around inclusivity, the workshop also forms part of an ongoing line of research around the arts and disability by the British Council.

For more projects from The British Council East Africa Arts team follow @eastafricaarts on Instagram.