Why do we go to the effort to document our interests, possessions, and stories for everyone else to see? Stories that would otherwise be firmly locked up, only present in our minds, kept hidden away from reality. The art of documentation and curation is a funny one, if you'd like to even call it 'art' at all. The very act of researching art and art history alone is not considered an 'artistic practise', yet the stories uncovered through that research so often are… where does one draw the line? And is this line definitive, or is it as flexible as a swinging pendulum? More importantly, why do we feel the need to document forgotten gems of the past, other people's stories and photographs that speak to us in such a way that makes us feel like we own them and they're not just part of history overall but our history?
I don't have the answers to these questions. In fact, I don't think many people do unless they want to talk about the 'human psyche' or make retorts such as 'that's just the way we're humans are, it's in our DNA'. Regardless, documentation - specifically when it's about the past - is a beautiful thing. Preserving our memories is one of the precious luxuries we have, and although at one point digital archives may have been perceived as foreign and intimidating, we've come to realise they're the best tool when looking to the past and moulding it with the present. Or at least African Style Archive founder Tosin Adeosun thinks so. (And we wholeheartedly agree.)
Supported by LCF curator and archivist Susanna Cordner, Adeosun's takeover will be dedicated to celebrating the beauty of Africa's historical fashion alongside an appreciation for the art of curation itself. Although most of the curation will be kept as a surprise to London College of Fashion's Instagram followers, what we know so far is that there'll be various explorative features focusing on men's tailoring in 1970's Central Africa (captured through the lens of Cameroonian photographer Michel Kameni and Congolese photographer Maurice Bidilou), archival imagery dedicated to one of Africa's most worn and well-known fabrics – the wax print - and information surrounding Ghana's first professionally trained post-independence fashion designer, Chez Julie (Juliana Norteye).
In terms of Adeosun's personal interests, her Instagram archive (which now has 3,884 followers at the time of writing) happens to stem from them directly. Starting with wanting to share her private family photos from the 1950s and 1960s in Africa, Adeosun soon came to embrace all aspects of Africa's rich cultural history, specifically focusing on the style and sound of the 20th century altogether. The result of years and years of research coupled with an intense wonder for learning about her family's past and history eventually turned into a broader interest and a closer observation of the African diaspora, which, in turn, has attracted all kinds of people over the world, tuning in to Adeosun's findings. From posting the front cover of a 1951 issue of South African fashion magazine Zonk! to showing various archived film clips, including a London Commonwealth fashion show in 1961 (featuring Princess Elizabeth of Toro of Uganda), African Style Archive is precisely what it says on the tin; An African style archive that goes to great lengths to uncover the stylistic photographs, magazine issues and fashionable youth culture that made up Africa's budding fashion scene in the 20th century.
'i'm a naturally curious and inquisitive person; I love fashion, art, history and my African heritage.' Tosin Told London College of Fashion ahead of her Instagram takeover, which starts today on the London College of Fashion Instagram. When speaking about the development from just posting family photos to much broader content, Adeosun admitted that she's always been interested in visual culture as well as interacting and exploring her own. 'This all combined led me to want to know more, share more, and have more conversations about the histories and narratives I am researching. Doing my MA in Art History and Museum Curating with Photography also helped, as it made me aware of further critical ways to think about, view and interact with visual culture.' Despite many interpretations of what curation entails, Adeosun's carefully curated intricate archive essentially all boils down to a love of history and research, displaying an interaction and communication of visual culture.
I asked Adeosun whether she thought the transition from family photographs to incorporating a more comprehensive material was a natural one which she seemed to think so. 'The transition was definitely a natural one as I was in the process of digitising my family photo albums (which dates back to the early 50s in Nigeria) in 2017. I was already thinking about and engaging with African art and visual cultures and also seeking out ways to piece together sartorial African histories' she tells me. 'The digitisation process I was undertaking, and my research interests definitely moved towards creating my curatorial platform. I decided I wanted to expand on this work after I completed my MA... deep down, I knew and felt that there was so much more I wanted to explore in relation to fashion, history and the African diaspora, so it all just came together from there.'
In regards to Adeosun's individual hopes for the curation, she told LCF that it's simply all about 'the diversity of fashion and history on the African continent.' Reflecting, in large, on the neglection and representation of Africa's history and style in the West, Adeosun highlighted this disregard by mentioning, 'It is blatant that African fashion history has been largely overlooked when it comes to fashion, art and historical studies. Through this exhibition, I hope to reach an audience that I can, through educating, introduce them to this wonderful and exciting history, where there is so much to learn from.'
The key to curation and documentation in a constantly evolving digital world is simply to preserve archives so they can live on forever; there's a beauty in the physical form that no one can deny but there’s also beauty in longevity. The internet and more specifically, Instagram, allows that beauty to continue, opening up a gateway for more people to access what otherwise would be very private archives. Thanks to Tosin Adeosun's African Style Archive, more people than ever before can educate themselves on Africa’s colourful, varied and explosive history through a black photographer’s lens and perspective.