This exhibition offers an unprecedented look at the 50-year history and contemporary social impact of one of Africa’s most vibrant fashion industries, highlighting a wide range of designs and textiles. The exhibition will feature the work of internationally noted Ghanaian designers and their respective brands, such as Aisha Ayensu, Christie Brown; Ajepomaa Mensah, Ajepomaa Design Gallery; Kabutey Dzietror and Sumaya Mohammed, Pistis; and Brigitte Merki, BM – Brigitte Merki; and illustrates the influence of Ghanaian cultural production on the global fashion community. The exhibition will additionally premiere two original garments from Accra’s first Parisian-trained fashion designer, Chez Julie, whose innovative creations paved the runways for Accra’s current generation of fashion designers.

Kabas and Couture highlights the intersections between designer fashions and traditional forms of dress in Ghanaian culture, with runway garments displayed alongside historical textiles such as a batakari tunic and kente cloth. As part of the exhibition, the Harn transforms one of its galleries into a recreation of a Ghanaian textile and seamstress shop to illustrate the importance of Ghana’s everyday fashions, particularly the kaba. As a form of dress that has become a symbol of national identity for Ghanaian women, the kaba actively responds to the rapid and unexpected shifts in local and international fashion trends. Visitors can experience the process of commissioning a kaba and will be able to “try on” several kaba fashions, encouraging an appreciation for this dynamic local fashion.

Kabas and Couture is comprised of loans from private collections, as well as notable works from the Harn’s extensive African art holdings, including unusual examples of kente cloth and batakari tunics. Videos and photography from fashion shows in Accra provide additional context for the works on display. Among the exhibition’s highlights are rare examples of garments created by Juliana ”Chez Julie” Kweifio-Okai, Ghana’s first Parisian-trained fashion designer to emerge in Ghana during the post-colonial era. The remaining garments represent the best of Accra’s emerging fashion designers which include Aisha Ayensu, whose accomplishments include winning the 2009 Emerging Designer of the Year award at Arise Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa; participating in multiple runway shows held in Paris and Milan; and recently designing a suite of garments for the dancers of Beyonce’s “Mrs. Carter Show” world tour. Both Ayensu and Ajepomaa Mensah have partnered with international fashion companies to market selections of their fashions; Ayensu with the Italian Biffi Boutique and Mensah with the French company Moon Look.

Guest curated by Christopher Richards, UF alumnus and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for the Creative Arts of Africa, Kabas and Couture will remain on view at the Harn through August 23, 2015, prior to a national tour. Details about additional exhibition venues will be announced later this year.

Satin and wax print evening gown by Pistis