Maki Oh’s Autumn Winter 15\16 collection explores the idea of adopted identities as result of West Africa’s long history with cultural appropriation. It is an idea that has spun through all Maki Oh collections. Dutch Wax lends itself as the starting point of this research.
“As an advocate for all things truly African, Maki Oh uses true African textiles like Adire, Aso-oke, Akwa Ocha, Oja and more to continue to illustrate to the world (and Africans) that we have desirable, couture quality local textiles. Ankara fabric (Dutch Wax) does not have it’s origins in Africa. It is imported from Holland, India, Turkey, China and even England. But the world, and even some Africans think this fabric is African. Holland’s Vlisco’s current website proudly states “Vlisco has been romancing the men and women of Central and West Africa for almost 170 years and has been embraced as the very fabric of life in many societies.”
This season, Maki Oh dissects the fascination and perception of these fabrics as African, along with other concepts that have been imported from other continents and have found home in West Africa.
The idea of the African mermaid, Mami Wata is of particular interest, as it originated from a photograph of a Samoan snake charmer that appeared on the coasts of Nigeria in 1887. This image of a beautiful, long-haired woman holding a snake captured the imagination of some West African indigenes who then projected meaning and symbolism onto the photograph, forming a powerful cultural myth around it. This is how simply and astonishingly the idea of Mami Wata was formed.
This total adoption of foreign ideas inspires the silhouettes, prints and embellishments in the AW15/16 collection, which is packed with hidden meanings in the same vein as traditional Nigerian attire. A traditional adire print ‘Omi’, (water) covers a dress with a fish-like fin, mirrored-fishes swim across dense cotton trousers, an iridescent fin swims down the sleeve of a silk blouse, a floral Guipure lace skirt which symbolizes her beauty, is backed with a mirrored glitter cotton canvas and a silk crepe dress is flanked by ekpaku ubok (an Ibibio arm band used during a traditional fertility dance)
The colour palette – white, blue green, marine blue, mirror silver, sand and black is found in both, the original and adopted imagery and myths.
Image Credit: Style.com