Exhibition presents African history you can wear

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

28 April 2009: An exhibition celebrating African cultures and their unique textiles opened at Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) Strathfield Campus art gallery recently.

The exhibition Walala Wasala; the Fabric of African Politics, features a collection of printed fabrics accumulated by Country Director of community aid organisation Pact Mongolia, Tracey Naughton, during more than 15 years in Africa.

What began as a personal collection by Ms Naughton has now featured in 20 galleries across Australia and is at its last stop before heading to Europe. The pieces are what Ms Naughton calls an "ephemeral record of history", featuring leaders, social statements and cultural icons, and commemorating significant events from 14 African nations.

Ms Naughton, who has worked in communication and community development for most of her career, said she had been taken by the way the African people speak through their cloth, and wanted to pay tribute to a continent often recognised only for its history of violence and poverty.

"I wanted to show who and what African societies choose to commemorate," she said.

Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana and Robert Mugabe are among those featured in the exhibition, as well as commemorations of the new millennium, the South African Liberation and 9/11. Ms Naughton said they had been collected from political parties, market places and even people who were wearing them.

photo: Princess Diana, Queen of Hearts Photo: 'Princess Diana, Queen of Hearts'; three textiles featured in the exhibition, collected in Mozambique in 1998 and 1999
photo: Nelson Mandela - South Africa Photo: 'Nelson Mandela – South Africa'; Cloth appearing in exhibition worn on South African local government election day, 2006 in Mpumalanga, South Africa by ANC Youth Leaugue campaigner Nkeko Mphake. (photo by Chris Kirchhoff)

"The 9/11 piece came from a woman who was wearing it," she said. "I asked if I could have it and said I'd take her to the marketplace to buy her some new ones, and she was happy with the deal."

The exhibition was opened by African Women's Advocacy Unit Director Juliana Nkrumah, who won the 2007 'Woman of the West' award for her active support of African communities and the rights of women and refugees in Australia.

Mrs Nkrumah thanked ACU and the University's Gallery Coordinator Lachlan Warner for the resources and work that went into hosting the exhibition, and congratulated Ms Naughton for "bringing unique expressions of African culture to the world".

"This exhibition will encourage the contribution of cultural artefacts into the tapestry of multiculturalism that is Australia," said Mrs Nkrumah.

"We [The African people] don't do art only on a piece of paper, our hairstyles are art.

"Our art is to do with our practical day to day living. It is used as clothing, for carrying children and as a cover from the cold."

Mr Warner said the University was privileged to be able to host the exhibition.

"It has particular relevance to the Art and Design students, and those studying textiles here at the University, as well as the large African community within our student body and in the local area," he said.

The exhibition will be open until 23 May at the ACU Gallery, Gate 3, 25A Barker Road, Strathfield, Monday through to Saturday, 11am to