In Conversation with Erica de Greef, Senior Curator of Fashion at Africa’s largest museum of contemporary art Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.
To start off, what is fashion curation?
Fashion curation, much like all other forms of curation, is about identification, selection and exhibition driven by a concept, idea, narrative, argument or feeling. Curating objects of dress, fashion and adornment reflect on the capacities of these objects to articulate rich and layered narratives about diverse issues such as gender and class, trade and travel, new technologies, or ancient crafts. Fashion artefacts when considered in spaces such as museums, are also able to reflect on notions of power, and underlying politics of issues such as race, culture, nostalgia or resistance. When we focus our attention on a fashion object in a museum – as we do with a work of art – we draw in the complex socio-cultural narratives that informed the object in its making, as well as in its wearing.
Explain the vision for fashion exhibitions and curated projects at Zeitz MOCAA.
Zeitz MOCAA is the first major museum on the continent dedicated to a critical engagement with contemporary fashion from Africa and its diaspora. This engagement with fashion both reflects and articulates the complexities and diversities of fashioned identities in and from the continent. The vision of the museum is to support the development of fashion exhibitions, new knowledge platforms, Afrocentric fashion collections, and interdisciplinary collaborations so as to strengthen the dialogues with and about African fashion.
There are two key pillars that underpin all the fashion-related projects, programming, collections and collaborations.
Firstly, there is the focus on selecting, collecting, showcasing and elevating African fashion and its histories in the public realm.
Secondly, there is the quest to build knowledge platforms, primarily networked digitally, that will contribute to both the creation of both original historic, and contemporary, African fashion archives, and the re-scripting of fashion histories to better reflect multiple decolonised, diverse and inclusive narratives. Exhibitions of fashion form an integral part of Zeitz MOCAA’s mission to reframe, redress and reimagine what it means to be African in the 21st Century.
Zeitz MOCAA is the first major museum on the continent dedicated to a critical engagement with contemporary fashion from Africa and its diaspora.
Will it include fashion from the continent? If so, what can one look forward to?
The focus of the museum is to celebrate contemporary African fashion, from across the continent and beyond. This will include collaborations with designers and fashion activists, filmmakers, producers, and academics based in Africa, as well as those working closely with African fashion practices, histories and fashion futures. We will also encourage and include the reclamation of historical narratives, so that we begin to tell our own stories, or script new histories, shifting the discourse where necessary, so as to rethink and reconfigure ideas of inherited colonial legacies. Our ongoing curatorial research project, 21YEARS, explores the possibilities of crafting these micro-histories through the lens of fashion, with the first exhibition, 21 YEARS: Making Histories with SA Fashion Week, opening in November 2018,.
How do you foresee first time exhibition projects such as 21 YEARS: Making Histories with SA Fashion Week, supporting the broader fashion industry throughout the continent?
Museums are unique in their capacity to draw attention to, and transform our appreciation of objects. This differs greatly from platforms such as retail, commercial or fashion media spaces. So an exhibition like this can constructs new dialogues around Africa and fashion. It can shift public perceptions through the act of showcasing and through a range of educational and public programmes. Museum exhibitions enable new forms of attention, and in this regard, can dramatically shift notions of value and appreciation of the crafts, practices and conceptual processes of designers, which can translate into greater support for their work in the future.
For Erica de Greef a fashion thinker, facilitator and activist, who advocates for ‘thinking fashion differently’ in South Africa, it seems like a natural progression from fashion academic to fashion curator.
For more details about fashion-related workshops, young apprentice drawing and making programmes, panel discussions and public talks, for the exhibition, 21 YEARS: Making Histories with SA Fashion Week (November 2018 – January 2019) visit: https://zeitzmocaa.museum