Taking a walk through the African print fashion exhibit at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is like taking a walk through the history and the future of the continent at the same time.
“African-Print Fashion Now: A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style” depicts how dynamic and colorful fashion compliments the culture of Africa, while showing key historical moments along with snapshots of what the future could hold.
The exhibit, running through Aug. 12, is organized in four sections: It All Starts with Cloth; Portraits in Print; Regional Styles, Fashion Preferences; and New Directions. On display are 60 tailored fashions, including unique dresses designed by Monsieur Ba, Nicole Amien and Delphine Kouassi, as well as archival and contemporary cloths, runway videos and works by contemporary visual artists.
As part of the exhibition, the museum held a two-part design challenge that was sponsored by Spoonflower, a digital printing company based in North Carolina.
Memphis resident Gina Von Dee claimed the prize of the second challenge, which was to use the winning textile of the first challenge to create an original fashion design. Her designs of a neckpiece, strapless sundress and shoes will be displayed at the museum through Aug. 12.
Von Dee was inspired at a young age by her mother, who owned a home-based drapery business. Throughout her childhood in New York City, Von Dee spent many years in textile mills and fabric warehouses.
When she turned 6, her mom purchased her a sewing machine, which was the turning point for Von Dee. She would later attend the San Francisco School of Fashion Design and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
“My favorite part of being a fashion designer is bringing an idea – a vision – to life and having the audience appreciate my design aesthetic,” said Von Dee.
In addition to Brooks Museum of Art, Von Dee has showcased her designs at the Memphis Southern Women’s Show.
Where does Von Dee find her inspiration for designs?
“Inspiration can come from the tiny cobblestone streets in Toledo, a sunset in Jamaica, espresso in Berlin, or the pulsating rhythmic beauty of my melanated people in my birthplace of Harlem,” said Von Dee.
The museum and African print exhibit is not just for adults. A theater room plays children’s movies for the kids. There’s also a section with doll heads and colorful scarves for kids to wrap around on doll heads.
On a recent day, a class excitedly played with different prints on the scarves and tried on African dresses, while their teacher took pictures of them.
“It’s important for them to get involved in just not fashion but African fashion,” the teacher said. “This way they can get in touch with their culture.”
Chief curator Marina Pacini said, “Our goals are for visitors to explore the roots of African fashion and the perceptions of beauty and identity through the fabrics and the designs.
“And for them to recognize that Africa has a thriving contemporary art scene, which includes fashion as a vital part of it.”
(There are several exhibitions relating to African or African-American culture, including “Black Resistance” by the late Earnest C. Withers, currently on display at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Visit www.brooksmuseum.org/current to view the dates of the exhibits. Consider visiting on Wednesdays, which are pay-what-you-wish days.)