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Yisu Zheng / Staff Photographer

March 4, 2020

Celebration of African Culture at Afrik! Fashion Show

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The 15th annual Afrik! Fashion Show showcased the fashion and culture of the African diaspora at Duffield Hall on February 29.

The Pan African Students Association hosted this event with the collaboration of other organizations like International Student Union, ALANA Intercultural Board, Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition, CU Tonight and the Student Activities Funding Committee.

This event coincided with the end of Black History Month and was a unifying event for all students who identify as members of the African diaspora. The United States has the second largest population of individuals of African ancestry outside of the continent.

Seven professional designers loaned their latest designs to grace the runway, showing how African culture has found its place in high fashion — a place that has historically excluded people of color. The variety of designers reflected the different experiences of the African diaspora.

Obioma Fashion, one of the designers featured, describes themselves on their website as “a company that mixes traditional African prints with the boldness of modern Western fashion,” and sources their materials exclusively from Nigeria.

Another designer featured, Izu&Vash, is a brand that is inspired by Nigerian culture and focuses on ethically-conscious clothing. According to the brand website’s, “[they] chose to use different prints, textures and colors to not only tell a story, but to keep us connected to our roots as we grow and take in new experiences.”

Caroline Johnson ’22 described the value of this annual fashion show in the Cornell community.

“Afrik is a beautiful experience. It brings members across all communities to celebrate the hard work and skill of the designers, who each represent a different culture. Seeing your friends transform into high-end models on a runway is so amazing and I really can’t wait until next year.”

The show was an interactive experience and many members of the audience were invited up on stage to showcase their blend of street style with traditional fashion. Many members of the Cornell community also contributed to the entertainment aspect of the show. Various Cornellians showcased their musical talents in rap, piano, drums and even the viola. Two dance troupes, the African Dance Repertoire and Sabor Latino, performed during the intermission of the show providing another space for cultures that have been systematically whitewashed by Western media.

The variety of genres featured in this portion of the show, combined with the different designers included, further reflects the diversity of the black community here on campus, a community that cannot and should not be categorized as one single entity. Placing the fashion show at the end of Black History Month serves as a display of solidarity and a way for people to preserve their individual cultures after a long history of oppression through art.

Jonathan Mercedes ’22 summed up how art — in this case, fashion— has been one of the mediums in which people of color have expressed themselves throughout history.

“I feel like Afrik! is the black community’s CFC fashion show, it’s a time for people who historically haven’t been able to pursue careers that didn’t yield a stable income, meaning law, medicine, and finance, to showcase their talents and passion in a personal context.”

Fashion is one of the most personal forms of art and expression that exists. We consciously choose the clothing we wear and these decisions are constantly reflected even if we don’t realize it. Seeing the intermix of traditional prints in contemporary designs reveals something personal and unifying: despite all of the hardships and forced assimilation that have plagued the black community, they managed to maintain their culture.

 

Sarah Bastos is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at smb532@cornell.edu.