Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design is a multi-disciplinary exhibition curated by Amelie Klein and Okwui Enwezor at the Vitra Design Museum. The exhibition showcases the work of over 120(!) artists and designers and with that, Making Africa illustrates how design accompanies and fuels economic and political changes on the continent. The exhibition is divided into four parts: Prologue, I and We, Space and Object, and Origin and Future. As a Fashion Anthropologist I was mostly interested in the identity creation and manipulation of the ‘I and We’. How do we style ourselves in a specific cultural context and what does that say about who we are or who we wish to be?
A while ago I was extremely inspired by a text of Boris Groys. According to Groys, “in a society in which design has taken over the function of religion, self-design becomes a creed” (Groys 2008). Like me, also the curators of Making Africa agree in this saying that “in our daily interactions, design provides an effective tool to communicate about ourselves, to demonstrate belonging but also to set ourselves apart from others”. Thus, when for example looking at the Congolese Sapeurs, “they avail themselves of Western styling, yet the aesthetic codes are reinterpreted until a new, unique and distinctively African cultural form emerges”.
This process of self-creation does not only happen in the African context, on the contrary, it happens in every social environment. The way that we visualise our identity is in constant flux. Nicely put, “in the world through which we travel, we are endlessly creating ourselves” (Fanon 1952). Me and you, we repeatedly reconsider who we are and who we wish to be when traveling from one place to another (mentally as well as physically). Whether we are dressing up for a fashion show, an important business meeting or visiting a family gathering, we are continuously ‘making ourselves’ in the process of self-designing our identity.