Is Africa Facing An Identity Crisis?

PHOTOGRAPHY
Daniel Chege

CONTENT
Loyce Odo

THE BACKGROUND

  There’s no better evening than when we all gather at one place and look back at what has made us who we are, and to be more specific, in appearance. It reminds us of the days we could sit around the campfire and listen to our grandparents share tales that were true to our culture and were rich with information about our identity. This is what the Cultural Quest, launched in Metta on the 7th of March was all about. The only difference is that there was no campfire and no grandparents, rather a community of fashion enthusiasts, scholars and entrepreneurs who wanted to converse and unpack the myths and truths around cultural identity. Some of them include: Deconstructing Identity, Impact of Modernization, Role of fashion, Examples of Cultural Preservation and Urbanisation.

The Cultural Quest is a journey of appreciation and discovery. The aim is to rediscover & reclaim our cultural identity and express this through the language of fashion. This will be achieved through a series of expeditions to selected communities in Kenya,

with the aim of stitching together clothing that interweaves modern-day contemporary styles with a culturally conscious traditional backdrop. This Quest is the manifestation of the need to celebrate and recreate our identity via our African heritage.

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Among those in attendance were  the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, represented by Dr. Kiprop Lagat, Director of Culture, Dr. Khamati Shilabukha, Research Fellow in the Institute of Anthropology, Sinita Akello, Makeup and Body artist, Anne Eboso, Founder of Rusinga Festival and moderator of the evening and our very own Sam Omindo, Founder and Creative Director at Genteel.

There was an in depth intellectual discussion about what culture really is and wonderful insights emerged when exploring the theme of the day ‘Is Africa Facing an Identity Crisis?’

Dr. Khamati, Shillaboha started off by saying, “Cultural identity is different to pinpoint because culture is shared  and is social. We must appreciate that culture is not stagnant but dynamic. It doesn’t exist in isolation but rather is formed through crossed boundaries of other surrounding cultures.” With this, he emphasized that what we may be losing may just be functional aspects of culture  but not our culture as a whole.

This was an important point moving forward as we also see how technology has brought various other cultures together through what we call ‘Globalization’ , therefore breaking even more boundaries.

Culture, Is Our Unique Identifier

The Government of Kenya has definitely put in place policies that articulate Cultural Identity and Dr. Lagat shed more light on this by quoting the constitution of Kenya 2010, in Article 11 that stipulates, ‘Culture is the foundation of the nation’ and Article 7 that upholds Kiswahili as the National language. He further mentioned the Culture and Heritage Policy 2009, which talks of symbols of national identity. He crowned it off by mentioning how our own “culture is our unique identifier”.

Intricate Details, Make a huge difference…

An interesting observation came from one of the panelists, Sinita Akello, who said “It’s difficult for those from the outside looking in to know our distinguished cultures as Kenya is multi-ethnic. However, those little intricate accents like the beads of the Maasai and the red ochre from the Samburu matter a lot.”

What do Black Panther, Laduma & Boateng’ all have in common?

Sam drew a lot of inspiration from the movie Black Panther, a production that moved the world and said that finally, the blacks and people of African descent had something that they could easily relate to. The bold colours reminded people of something they can call theirs. “Fashion is an important language to express identity. Black Panther show-cased that there was a lot of beauty in Wakanda. In fashion, we should unpack culture and find a suitable way that culture can be related to fashion and make it functional.” Notwithstanding, the lady behind the costumes in the film, Carter drew inspiration from different African Communities as she designed for the cast. Sam also recognized Ozwald Boateng and Laduma, from South Africa, as some of the other renowned designers who are stitching the cultural story in their garments.

Anne Eboso who was the moderator crowned the discussion by this very apt phrase, “The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of the people.” Capturing this diversity is therefore our generations responsibility before we lose it.

This really interactive session may not have been long enough to articulate all the tenets of culture and identity but it indeed left people with more questions than answers. Questions that will challenge us to read more and research further on what culture and identity is all about, and especially the role it plays when it comes to fashion. We are considering the option of having a follow up discussion to further unpack the themes around Identity.

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We would love to thank all our partners, beginning with Metta, for giving us a platform to share our ideas and interact, Camerapix, for working hand in hand with Genteel and collaborating in content development and finally the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage for providing a conducive environment for artists and designers to thrive and most importantly, for gracing and officiating our launch.

The launch on the 7th set the right tone to begin this audacious journey of celebrating our beautiful cultural heritage. We’re currently planning our visit to  Isiolo, County to spend a week with the Samburu community and delve into their beauty. Follow our twitter account for updates on the same @genteel_ke

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