P 52

Material Morphosis: Trajectories, Connectivities, and Transformations in Fashion and Design

Panel abstract
While phenomena of metamorphosis have been associated with predominantly negative connotations within a European frame of reference (namely as mere imitation, deceit, or substitute), they also point towards another meaning, revealing a principle that stresses the significance of materiality as ‘sujet’. Recently, techniques such as sampling have fostered new interpretations of such creative transfers. Thus, material metamorphoses frequently happen to be also media metamorphoses.
The focus on substance and materialities seems to relate to African notions of classification – material is recognized here as both textile fabric and oral transmission of “matter”: objects are often classified according to certain characteristics of materiality and semantics and not only to their formal qualities. The ideational and non-material can become attached to the material, whereas in other contexts certain materialities are reserved for privileged groups or persons.
Since precolonial times, fabrics as objects of transcontinental and transregional trade and exchange play a crucial role in the making and strengthening of social ties and, thus, of status and identities. The importance of material is also reflected in contemporary fashion and design where global belonging as well as local situatedness are claimed. The conscious choice of materials and techniques of labels like, for example, Xuly Bët, Laduma or Black Coffee, refers to the material expression of a (pan-) African and decolonial legacy, both critical and playful.
In contemporary design and art, material morphoses find expression in processes of modernization, democratization, nobilitation, and re-evaluation; they also relate to material innovation and new manufacturing techniques, as well as to miniaturizations (reductions, compressions, condensations) found in architecture and furniture design.
We suggest that the analytical lens of material morphosis (Stoffwechsel) can foster new perspectives when examining cultures of materiality, when further exploring the “dense materiality” of cloth as social skin, as material object or archive, or when tracing “matter” and its regional and transcontinental entanglements in the past, present and future.

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 4.30 - 6.30 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 17

Convenors
Kerstin Pinther (University of Munich)
Alexandra Weigand (University of Munich)
Kristin Kastner (University of Munich)

Panellists
Chonja Lee (University of Bern, Switzerland)
Okechukwu Nwafor (Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Ifite Awka, Nigeria)
Adwoa Owusuaa Bobie (University of Basel, Switzerland)
Alexandra Weigand (University of Munich)

 

Paper abstracts

Chonja Lee
Trading Fashion for Slaves: Ornaments of Printed Cottons, Their Morphosis, and Agency

Historians have emphasized the circulation of printed cottons between Europe and India, including the Atlantic Space. In this paper, however, I would like to inscribe the agency of the African consumers at the centre of this story and analyse the communication between buyer, seller, and maker in a wide spanning contact zone. Designed specifically for the West African market, the European drawers and engravers would translate European scenes in pseudo-African contexts, freely imagine African people and landscapes, and develop adaptations of African iconography with specific patterns, colours and symbols embedded in local cultures and religions. These images of and for the other are material evidence of an otherwise difficult to trace discourse around a cultural transfer for economic reasons. Ornaments can oscillate between pictures and patterns and, in these specific cases, they potentially bear encoded religious meaning to the customer. Ornamental semantics of textiles, as means for social communication, are at challenge in this example, with the European makers supposedly not understanding what they drew. Questions of agency are multifold: the printed cottons are playing a key role among the commodities to oppress and enslave people, the African customers are setting the agenda for the prints through their market power, and the ornaments themselves are hiding potential images. Finally, I would like to include the religious historical background with the protestant makers reproducing religious imagery in textiles for the African market, while missionaries, at the same time, are trying to get rid of them. The printed cottons are intermediaries between categories with their material status between fabric and print, intermedia play in mimicry of other textiles and craft, and intercultural morphosis.

Okechukwu Nwafor
Photographing ASỌ EBÌ: of Surfacism and Digitality

This paper speaks to some of the visual spectacles, visual constellations, that surround the practice of what is known as asọ ebì in Nigeria. Asọ is a Yoruba word, which means ‘cloth’ while ebì means ‘family’. The literal translation is ‘Family Cloth’. I use asọ ebì to show that textiles have taken preeminent position in the discourse of identity and to illustrate its intersection with photography in Nigeria. Here asọ ebì clothes, serving as textiles, allow Nigerians to redefine their relationship to the modernity that was disseminated by the Western sartorial styles and photographic genres. A theoretical reconstruction of this modernity suggests that asọ ebì and digital photography belong to what I call surfacist aesthetics, in which the body is the surface upon which the banalities and façades of late capitalist sensibilities are inscribed. Asọ ebì, therefore, serves as a vehicle to address the substantiality of the surface in photography as initially proposed by Christopher Pinney in relation to Indian practices. In this paper, by looking at asọ ebì photographs –those I personally took at weddings in Lagos and those taken by Kingsley Chuks– I take Pinney’s notion of surfacism into a broader set of cultural issues in Lagos. The approach of this paper, which draws on ethnography, art-historical models of visual studies, and literary theory, is my attempt to explore how combined methods of analysis can raise research questions beyond conventional theories of visual analysis.

Adwoa Owusuaa Bobie
Rebranding Africa, Reclothing Africa

Fashion and Africa are perceived as two opposing ends, as the former connotes modernity while the latter tradition. This perception feeds into sociologists’ hesitation to study fashion in contemporary times, being regarded more as an anthropological or historical field of study. However, the developments of fashion especially on the African continent in present times demands the attention of all disciplines and, more importantly, the sociologist. Joining the interlocutor of ‘Africa rising’ with its major economic mark of unprecedented rise in middle class population, I argue that this middle-class population, with their educational background, exposure, and improved purchasing power, is driving, among other things, developments in the African fashion industry: creativity, innovation, and expansion. Nigeria, a miniature representative of African economic boost, the biggest economy, arguably the country with most middle-class population, and a fashion giant on the continent, is the area of study. The research asks two questions: what is the current trend of fashion in Nigeria and how is the middle class related to this trend? This qualitative study seeks insight into the structure, technicalities, and trends emanating from Nigerian fashion industry and asks how the increase or change in the lifestyle of a group of people (middle-class) has influenced the fashion system. Interviews and observation were employed in data collection from fashion designers, customers, and other fashion related professionals. Purposive, snowballing, and accidental sampling methods guided sample selection.

Alexandra Weigand
Fashion as Archive – Tracing Material Morphoses in Contemporary Fashion Design in Lagos

When looking at a young generation of internationally operating fashion designers based in Lagos, Nigeria, a strong reference to local traditions can be noticed: Kelechi Odu, I.AM.ISIGO, Kenneth Ize, Orange Culture, and others commute between the continents and connect conceptual approaches on fashion with recourse to their own cultural heritage. Local materials, techniques, patterns, and forms are referenced but not as mere ‘retro-trends’ in the sense of a romantic nostalgia for the past. On the contrary, these designers use the method of material morphosis to trace back their roots to bring the past into the present in new interpretations. The archive, understood with Foucault, is not a place where history is displayed but the place where history is coded and where knowledge is produced. In this paper, I propose to consider fashion as a visual and material archive, as a possibility to group together different formal and narrative influences, as a visualization and manifestation of history in the object. With Walter Benjamin, who indicated the sociopolitical significance of fashion, I ask whether fashion does not only reflect social change but can be a social force in itself. Material morphosis then –when understood as actualization, transformation, and recoding– would be its strategy.