Working as a Young Curator on Style Africa

My name’s Portia Light and I’m one of the 29 ‘young curators’ who took part in Style Africa at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I’ve always had a soft spot for fashion and textiles and when a curator from the museum came to the Centre of West African Studies to present on Style Africa, I leapt at the chance to be involved in creating the exhibition.


Sharing ideas 

Style Africa has given me the opportunity to combine my appreciation of all things creative with a chance to understand more about West Afirca. The workshops we attended looked to local clothes makers and textile specialists to help us answer questions such as: Who would wear expensive woven kente cloth? Where is affordable wax print imported from? How is adire (Nigerian tie and dye) made? and Why are the faces of some African political leaders printed on cloth?


‘Nkrumah cloth’ made in Ghana in 2007

The trip to the Africa gallery at the British Museum was the first time we got an impression of the scale of the task we had at hand. Everything within the museum had been carefully thought out; like the layout and layering of the textiles on display, the level of lighting, the use of space, and the themes. This gave us ideas on what Style Africa should embody. The workshop we had afterwards allowed everyone to voice their ideas for our exhibition and out of this grew the approach for Style Africa, as well as our floor plan and textile selection. 

Working alongside students from Birmingham City University’s Insitute of Art and Design (BIAD) was a brilliant experience; such a mix of innovative, imaginative and amazingly talented people. My favourite workshops were those which involved being trained by conservation specialists in the delicate art that is mannequin stuffing!  I literally had no idea how fiddly it was to create a realistic human form from padding, pins, a cotton t-shirt, and a needle and thread. 

My favourite part of the exhibition itself, and the thing I am most proud of, is the focus of Style Africa. We could have taken an exclusive look at the contemporary fashions of West Africa, but instead chose not only to emphasise the importance of current trends, but to also look deeper into the history and evolution of the production and consumption of West African textiles. I feel this gives visitors a well-rounded view of the subject, which coupled with the use of mannequins, floor-to-ceiling textiles, and a video featuring young people from the Drum Arts Centre, portrays West African style in an exciting and vibrant way.  


Mannequin prepared by the Style Africa participants, supporting a Nigerian-style dress made in Birmingham.

See more images of the Style Africa exhibition on Flickr.

One response to “Working as a Young Curator on Style Africa”

  1. Anonymous says :

    I’m also looking for an answer for those questions regarding African fabrics.
    Is there a catalog of the exhibition? Unfortunately I cannot attend it personally as I’m in Portugal now.
    Otherwise, do you have some bibliography about it you could indicate to me?
    Best regards,

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