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The Chitenge apparel: Celebrating African fashion aesthetics

The Chitenge apparel: Celebrating African fashion aesthetics

Masika Launches Fashion Future exhibition


Zorena Jantze

STREAMING down from the West African regions, the Chitenga as a fashion statement has created a carte blanche for expression when it comes to evocative colours, patterns and motifs for Namibian fashion designer, Leah Masika, who recently debuted her African textile exhibition.


The event, which forms part of multinational fashion showcases from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and the UK, was recently launched in the capital.


Event spokesperson Lafika Heita stated that over the past year, four diverse storytellers – Zimbabwean visual artist, Lucia Nhamo, British Ghanaian writer, curator and visual anthropologist Adjoa Armah, Malawian beauty and wellness expert Thokozani Phiri and Namibian design and fashion creative Leah Masika – carried out groundbreaking research on sustainability within the fashion industry.


Each of them produced stories for a country other than their own – Lucia for the UK, Adjoa for Zimbabwe, Thokozani for Namibia and Leah for Malawi.


TEXTILE ART: some the artworks displayed at the fashion exhibition. Photo: Contributed


In a short film, titled, “I speak Chitenge” Masika states that when she set out to find out what the fabric of Malawi said about Malawians and their fashion, she stumbled across something bigger.


First made to be a faulty Bastia cloth, the Chitenge turned into something that would free our people, Masika expands.


“Looking into our history and how colonialism tried to put the content in a box, made us dress in white, took our names… I truly believe that African cloth as we know it was our first voice after slavery or colonialism. The prints were loud and bold; everything we could not be at that time.


Everything we aspire to be. With time the merchants that bought these fabrics could guide the procurement of what they wanted to see on the prints and that’s why we claim it as African Fabric today. Not because we claim to produce it but because our ancestors imprinted their stories on it. We cannot deny that,” Masika explained.


With regard to the Chitenge’s displayed at the exhibition, Masika states that her prints are a visual dream of what Malawian textile could look like in the future.


“On the walls are images created from my journey in Malawian. The backgrounds are textiles created by items I encountered during my 3 day stay in Malawi that were distinctly a part of the Malawian story. If you look closely you will see their money, a bottle of Sobo, my favourite soda while I was there, Airtel prepaid airtime stub, colourful mini transport mini buses, very distinct Malawians and my attempt at what the Vtchena print – the print the designer is talking about in the video. I used her logo to create it and what it might look like one day,” Masika explained.


The artist added that after the exhibition showcase, she will be based in the Zambezi region where she will work together with fashion designers from the region.