What does it mean to be an ‘African designer’? Is it the fabrics you use, or earthy colour palettes, perhaps it’s traditional references or ethnic motifs? This is a question designers from the continent grapple with when presenting their work to international audiences and if their aesthetic does not fit into the perceptions of African design often find it being critiqued as not being African enough. Who gets to decide what it is to be African? The creator or the critic? This is the question posed and explored by Kenyan-based The Nest Collective in their book Not African Enough, which challenges what it means to be an ‘African’ designer.
The title Not African Enough comes from the oft derogatory expression that suggests if an African person does not dress, talk, think, or express themselves in a certain way then they are not being ‘African’. The book examines what it means to be creative and refusing to remain in the boxes that have defined what it is to be African. The West has long put Africa’s classical creativity into predefined boxes using words like ‘tribal’, ‘primitive’, and ‘ethnic’. This perception has spilled over into categorising contemporary African design. With African fashion capturing the world’s imagination and bringing more names from the continent onto the global stage debate about what defines African design has followed. Particularly as the increasing use of wax cloth prints have become synonymous with African fashion. And to not use them is to have your validity questioned. Even by other Africans.
Not African Enough looks at the work of fourteen Kenyan designers sharing their aesthetics, inspirations, design processes and fashion industry experiences. It shows the different perspectives of creativity and talks of the damage stereotyping and putting people in boxes does in stifling creative expression.
It is not up to the rest of the world to tell Africans what it is to be African, it is up to us as Africans to tell the world.
For further information about Not African Enough, and the Nest Collective visit: www.thisisthenest.com/
[Image credits: The images shown belong to The Nest Collective. If downloaded and used elsewhere please credit accordingly.]