African Fashion on Film, People/Nature
10 August 2020
Written by Sequoia Barnes
Whereas Wax Print examines the reality of fashion, diasporic histories/narratives, and the roles textiles have played in colonialism; these short films are sometimes art imitating life or sometimes conceptual dreamscapes. They are filled with vibrant fashion visuals that showcase the visual versatility of adorned black bodies occupying space and capturing your eyes. The way in which I received the films worked like a spectrum between people and nature. In this way, the clothes go from being the unwitting character to being an integral part of visual narrative and symbolism.
Boys of Soweto depicts black dandies as everyday birds of paradise engaging in yet another competition of courting the neighborhood girl, whereas, Gug' Othandayo - A Tribute To The Air Max shows the cast of the play in the iconic sneaker reminding us that with fashion age is nothing more than a number. However, Picha Morangi reads like a public service announcement for the eponymous fashion savant. Morangi poses and shows off his self made stylings amongst traffic, shoppers at the market, and in walkways forcing people to notice/walk around him. He stands posed in his dandified best as the world keeps going around him. He is a living statue of himself, a genius among us who serves his community just by existing fashionably. Inner Cruise, however, takes Selly Raby Kane’s conceptual styling to a somewhat post-apocalyptic urban landscape. A woman dreams of these architectural spaces that are devoid of people except her partner in dress and journey. Their clothes mimic the landscapes and spaces they purposefully wander around. However, it is unclear whether this partner is split from her or just simply appears from behind a tree like a spectre or shadow.
Nature is most evident in Daniel Obasi’s illegal and Baloji’s Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit. Both are stunning conceptual works that utilize the often overlooked dynamic between nature and fashion. illegal appears to tell the story of two fallen angels ‘exquisite cast-offs from heaven’ attempting to adapt to the new world that they have found themselves in. The Bible describes angels as having no gender. Obasi’s gender-fluid styling of the pair shows us how angels should look. Complimentary/matching garb and hair, as well as the eye catching nature of red play a prominent role in each ensemble ‘clothed in threads’. The slow minor gestures of the pair break up the stillness of their posing. Amongst the trees, they move their bodies languidly almost sensually ‘dark bodies swirled’ as if trying to imitate the birds and the trees aided by the breeze. In the domestic space they inhabit, slow walks accompanied by close ups of garment details, jewellery, tapping, and breathing ‘breathing youth’ make the pair appear as not just fallen angels but fashion creatures being documented/filmed in a strange captivity, the most endangered precious species.
Yet, Baolji’s Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit is the most ambitious piece of them all utilizing nature as the background for a spiritual fantasy world. It is the longest, at just under ten minutes, and the most lavish in terms of production. Peau de Chagrin / Bleu de Nuit is the accompanying visual narrative for the eponymously named son on Baloji’s 2018 album, 137 Avenue Kaniama. The Congolese-Belgian artist, musician, poet, and film director creates an allegorical dreamscape to accompany a song about the struggles of falling, being, and staying in love, ‘Can we mix pointless with pleasure before its reduced to a magical vanishing skin?’ The moving portraits, including Baloji and his love interest (both dressed in blue wedding garb), remind me of the spirit god portraits of Vodou interspersed with ritual practices and various masks that evoke the spiritual and futuristic. In the second half of the film, costumes are worn outside of a ‘post modern plantation’; an orange shining garment that distorts the upper body, a suit made entirely out of foliage, and a white suit with a feathered mohawk headpiece. For me, these costumes instantly connected to the African-American artist, Nick Cave, and his soundsuits, a testament to how inherently linked our diaspora is through visualities and bodily adornment.