"Boubou" is what Zille Homma Hamid calls her work: a sleeveless, rectangular garment that hangs over a wooden rod in the exhibition. In the photo, a woman on the beach in Dakar shows how it is worn. Over it she wears a coat-like wrap made of a patterned, woven blanket that Hamid bought in Dakar. Sleeves have been sewn onto the blanket, and it can also be used as a prayer rug. After all, praying five times a day is one of the religious duties in Islam, to which more than 90 percent of the Senegalese population belongs.
But the traditional Senegalese boubou is wider and longer and is usually worn by men. The material, dyed indigo blue, looks spotty; Hamid has bleached parts of it. The way this German fashion designer of Pakistani descent views Senegalese textiles also recalls old European-African-Asian relations. In West Africa, indigo is not produced from the indigo bush native to India, but from a local plant. But cotton fabrics from South Asia were already traded to West Africa centuries ago. Blue-white geometrically patterned textiles like those Hamid uses for the coat are produced in a combination of embroidery and dyeing techniques. About 200 years ago, they began replacing the West African woven textiles that were difficult to produce and that the Portuguese traded along the African coasts as early as in the 16th century.
The fashion designer’s simple work, exhibited in the ifa galleries in Stuttgart and Berlin, displays the complexity of the relations between the African and European continents – and also the Islamic world. African contemporary art has been regularly represented in international exhibitions since 1989. But the countries south of the Sahara remain underrepresented. There are a number of reasons for this, including deficits in the training of artists, limited access to new technologies and discussions, limited freedom to travel, and for the most part a lack of state support for the arts in these countries. Behind these things are enormous economic imbalances that mean that larger exhibitions are generally organized or at any rate funded by European institutions. In addition, both sides long had the idea that "African art" had to be somehow essentially different from European art. Exhibitions like "Africa Remix" (2004 - 2007) , which have taken the place of older exhibitions of "the art of a continent", still produce an image of the African continent that Africans themselves neither have a chance to see nor necessarily share.
At the beginning of the "Prêt-à-partager" [ready to share] project was the wish to take another path. In November 2008, artists and fashion designers from various African and European countries met for a workshop for the first time in Dakar, the city of the art biennial and of the fashion creator Oumou Sy. The goal was not to produce works for the global exhibition business, but to inspire exchange across the boundaries of countries, cultures, and disciplines. Fashion designers like Ndiaga Diaw and Nafisssatou Diop encountered contemporary artists like Astrid S. Klein, Goddy Leye, or Zille Homma Hamid and photographers like Akinbode Akinbiyi, Nontsikelelo "Lolo" Veleko, and Simone Gilges. A year later, the results were shown in Dakar. Maputo, Lagos, Capetown, Accra, and Douala were the next stations – supplemented in each of them by workshops on the various themes of the exhibition, for example by the German-Ghanian fashion designer and artist Zohra Opoku on the themes of the used clothing trade in Lagos and "WoMen on Bikes" in Accra.
The two exhibitions in Germany were accompanied by workshops and conferences, too. Ulé Barcelos and Philip Metz delved into issues of identity with pupils in Stuttgart, as already in Johannesburg. With children in Berlin, Opoku investigated where a T-shirt comes from that is sold in Berlin and where it ends up being sold as used clothing. Under the indicative title "Where We Meet", the founders and heads of some of the most important African art spaces met for a symposium. Creating exchange and providing impetus are among the project’s crucial interests. Conveying this in an exhibition remains difficult. Shop window mannequins, textile installations, a great number of photos in color and black-and-white, and videos of the workshops make it clear what the focus is, but have a limited ability to make the situations they refer to experiencable.
Artists participating in the joint exhibition of the ifa Galleries Berlin and Stuttgart, Germany, 2012:
Zille Homma Hamid
Astrid S. Klein
Friedrich M. Ploch
For more information, please see
>> Prêt-à-partager - website of the ifa
Art historian and critic, lives in Esslingen, Germany. Website: www.artwritings.de
a transcultural exchange in art,
fashion and sports
A project initiated and organized by ifa
Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa)
Elke aus dem Moore
Stations of the project, 2009 - 2012:
Galerie Le Manège
29 Sept. - 13 Oct. 2009
5 Febr. - 5 March 2010
Center for Contemporary Art (CCA)
3 - 18 July 2010
Capetown, South Africa
14 Oct. - 7 Nov. 2010
4 - 17 September 2011
space doual’art – centre d’art contemporain
13 Jan. - 3 Febr. 2012
Germany, ifa Galleries
Berlin, 27 April - 8 July 2012
Stuttgart, 4 May - 1 July 2012
Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
18 Sept. - 5 Oct. 2012