In Metro Detroit, African fabrics are everywhere.
Dozens of local businesses on the Livernois Avenue of Fashion sell African imports. Cultural organizations like O.N.E mile leverage the Afrofuturistic aesthetics that celebrate cultural pioneers like George Clinton in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. Detroit writer and culture maven Marsha Battle Philpot is known for wearing the fabrics as part of her multicultural flair. And the annual African World Festival, hosted by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, a celebration of the African diaspora’s diversity, shared heritage and cultures, is a great place to connect with international fabric vendors bringing an eye-popping array of imported fabrics to connect with an eager local market.
But as is often the case with long-distance cultural exchange, there is the chance of messages being lost in translation. Fabrics from Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and other countries are designed and executed with many layers of meaning, sometimes obscured by the beauty and aesthetic value of these fabrics as objects.
Where do these fabrics come from? How do they make their way into our lives? And what are they trying to tell us?