Having been fortunate enough to attend the launch on fashion and Object journeys in Africa, I felt a sense of wonder as I entered the first exhibit "Township Journeys" in the Brighton Museum.
Before me I found a glass case lit up beautifully and full of some unique and colourful objects. My attention was drawn to items I could relate to and others I was unsure of. Below the objects a small plaque of information for each item stood confirming or denying my suspicions. Just in front of this cabinet sat a table with more information on the subject and items at hand and attached to it peculiar beads in different little holders.
As I studied each object carefully I soon found myself swept into a conversation with the curators of this exhibit, who shared their vast knowledge with me, for instance the overly bright and colourful necklace was referred to as "Se-manje manje" by head curator Rachel and then translated by the ever passion filled Tshepo as "Today Today", meaning this item was of new age and a more modern fashion unlike other pieces that were displayed. Listening intently I found the cloth at the back I had been admiring from afar was known as "Shweshwe" (such bizarre names to me for these common items in Africa), however I found this to be great as it was so different from the usual, I knew I would remember it . Also included in this cabinet was an example of Xhosa outfit of brushed cotton: this was the long what I considered to be a cloak or wrap. I found out that this was only half the truth for the Aso-Oke is a type of strip weave which is sewn together to make one big cloth and this is used to make the basis of a Nigerian outfit. Balanced with it was a long stick-like object with an amazingly crafted what looked to be a women attached.
This was in fact I would later learn a smoking pipe but although I believed that this may be a male's pipe I was wrong and in fact, along with the Aso-Oke, this was a female smoking pipe. It really is a glorious object to see and one I believe you must view in person to admire its beauty. Each object was just so awe-inspiring when you looked at it, the Tie was made of beads small beads so intricate to look at so much detail to take in. A huge World Cup African football flag hung behind all the objects, making a grand display of itself and providing a great background. A sash hung next to the tie, grand as ever. Further down, near the "Se-manje manje " neck-piece were two more traditional necklaces and below that a gorgeous apron (which I thought to start with may have been a clutch bag) with another style of necklace. Feeling extremely interested in what I saw before me, I felt it necessary to ask about the beads on the display table. Some I had identified as plastic, but there was one set that was white hard and almost jagged. Upon asking, I received a prompt and somewhat crazy response: this was Ostrich egg, Weird thought hey, considering how soft and delicate an egg is. This was in fact true: eggs are delicate, however not so much when they are not fertilized, therefore the eggs would need to be collected promptly after being laid when the shell was extremely hard. You see as time goes on when the egg is fertilized the chick takes the calcium from the egg and thus weakens the shell it is encompassed in. I find this to be fascinating to think these tiny little pieces of hard white beads are actually an animal's incubator for their young.
Turning away from this display I was greeted by the most vibrant and lively photograph spread across the opposite wall Colour poured from it capturing any eyes that may go past such pride was displayed here clear for all to see. This was a shanty town in Cape Town South Africa and my, what a beauty it was. The poverty-stricken people had made such a striking display they well and truly had embraced being proud of who they were and the community they had built. Three quarters of the way down, a medium-sized monitor displayed a video of life. Instantly recognising the curator I spoke to earlier (Mr Tshepo Skwambane) I was eager to learn more about Townships.
The video was just fantastic a precise recollection of how townships became what they are today was shown the layout of the video was clear the volume perfect illustrations were used throughout this display of knowledge. One thing I remember vividly about this was the information regarding the Gold Rush, from the perspectives of people who had lived in a time before such a monetary value was placed upon things so heavily. In Mr Skwambane's opinion, the gold rush was a terrible thing for South Africa and along with his experiences he pointed out the facts and flaws within society due to this monetary exposure. I have to admit it was wonderfully presented and defiantly worth a listen. So much can be learnt from this short snippet of life in South Africa.
Fully engaged in this video, I watched it a number of times each time learning something new. Upon turning once more, I found my favourite item in this exhibit the waistcoat, do not be fooled though this was not an ordinary waistcoat but the most extraordinary waistcoat I had ever had the pleasure of seeing. It was just marvellous in a raised glass box. This waistcoat was vibrant it was intricate and it was really something to stare at I was drawn to this waistcoat. Learning more about it I stood shocked finding out that this was not a cloth waistcoat but beads miniscule beads sewn together to create this magnificent Item of clothing.. I cannot quite convey the sheer magnitude of beauty this Zulu re-interpreted jacket. I honestly would have turned up just to see this waistcoat without knowing about anything else; it really was the belle of the ball. Having spent a good thirty minutes admiring just the waistcoat alone, I proceeded on to the next exhibit, determined to come back and see that waistcoat again before I left. On the Second floor, near the back of the museum, I found the next exhibit laid out and created by the wonderful (Edith Ojo) and wow had she been working hard! Elegant clothing lined the back walls, each more sensational than the other.
Gaining my composure, I strolled over to the first item where I saw a huge piece of cloth spread out for all to see in this soft glow of light. This cloth in fact was a hand-sewn 1950's blanket and I mean look at it. How could you not be just enamoured with such a creation? Reading the neatly-placed information square next to it, I found out that each small section of imagery on this blanket meant something: the small coloured blocks were that of a town the what to me seemed like a random pattern was in fact words written about these illustrations, and (although not known by many) this inspiring blanket was actually adapted in the 1970s by adding the two mostly blue strips down each side not noticed by the common naked eye if you study this masterpiece long enough you soon realise the blanket happens to have two different coloured beads on the strips. This is because the "beaders" ran out of the blue beads so black was added in its place. This piece was chosen by none other than Mr Skwambane and was put upstairs due to room.
Walking up the wheelchair-friendly ramp, (lots of space and access for everyone here), I stood face-to-face with a unique outfit. This amazing piece was a male outfit, plain in colour until you view the chest area: an intricate design that went from collar to lower abdomen. This was a formal outfit, which would be worn to something like a wedding. Moving to the next tank, I gazed on an sensational outfit, displayed on the manikin before me was this long robe and hat(Head-wrap). This was a formal outfit used by a groom on his wedding intricate detail it popped out at me in stunning gold and blue, such simple colours creating a striking look for the newly wed. I stood and admired the garment, its beauty radiating making me imagine what it would be like to be at such an event. In the same display case, just slightly over from the grooms outfit, was the bride's. I have to admit I love this outfit. It was plain, but it stood out a mile away. It was practical looking. It was stylish: a simple design, silver was laced into it, and the hat topped the outfit off with its shiny silver material and matching pattern.
The next case, the last of the outfits, a spangled party dress fit for a good time sat on a manikin displaying its luxury to the world. It was just the most amazing outfit. Rich oranges reminding me of golden sand, this outfit adorned a funky hat and colour split dress the top half a bright white colour with Victorian-looking ruffled sleeves and the bottom that gorgeous vibrant orange with a diamond-like pattern in silver danced across it with tons of spangles that caught the lights around it mixed in with a hint of earthy brown. I believe this really is one of the most beautiful outfits I have ever seen. Talking to the curator of this exhibit (Edith) I found out she too believed this to be a party dress. "It says party, that's what Aso-Oke says to me". And I have to admit I thoroughly agree. These beautiful styles were that of Edith's Nigerian heritage and what a splendour it was to see them. The strong Summery colours were a token to the sunset itself. Party was indeed how I felt about it. As I glanced over the dress one last time my eye was caught on a small display of fabric. Different types lay placed over a mini display in the case at the feet of this festive dress, but as random as they seemed they were simply more fabrics displayed at my convenience so I could get a real taste of the different types of strip weave out there. This was Aso-Oke.
Looking over on the wall next to me clips of these gorgeous garments were being shown; the bride and groom had donated a small video of their wedding and Edith had had my favourite party outfit made especially for this exhibition. Lively clips of different scenarios and information were shown on a medium screen, putting you right in the action of what it was like to wear these outfits in a place where they stand out from the crowd and yet worked so well with their environment. So rich and full of love, I watched people dance and enjoy themselves, while showing off these stunning garments. There were many more clips on this screen from learning about the hats on the outfits to the culture around these outfits each clip more fascinating and jam-packed full of facts. This day really was a treasure. All in all I would say this was one of the most memorable days out I have had. I learnt so much and experienced even more and I highly recommend taking a look into some of these astounding objects and items of clothing as even my description does not do some of these items justice: they really are just sensational. If; you're not quite convinced please be assured this is 100% family friendly there is even a dressing up corner for your little ones to enjoy, so I ask myself: what are you waiting for? Go take a look while it's still around and experience culture like you have never felt before.