Missla by Florent Meng
Another Africa is an online magazine that shines a light on the contemporary vision of Africans, Africa and those related to the continent and its people, specifically through the creative lens of fashion, arts and culture. Founder Missla Libsekal shares some of the people and places that inspire her.
What is one popular misconception people have of Africa?
Missla Libsekal: I spent my childhood in Swaziland and Ethiopia before moving to Canada. So I guess I was about 12 years old in grade 9 when I first had the shock that education in the ‘1st world’ might not be as good as it had been touted about. My sister and I would be perplexed, mortified, amused when people asked us if we went to school by elephant or how we’d learned to speak English or if we spoke African. It all seemed a bit surreal given that in Mbabane my parents drove a Peugeot 504, we only saw elephants at Milwane the local game reserve, and we spoke the Queen’s English. Oddly no one wondered why we weren’t asking them if they spoke North American but I guess the silly point about common sense is that it’s a bit of misnomer, it’s not so common.
Contemporary African art and culture is so diverse, what are some specific countries, cultures, and/or cities that inspire you?
ML: To be honest, I never thought that I could be so inspired and so curious about any domain for that matter. The general dearth of information on contemporary Africana, particularly online, makes it seem like Christmas in July everyday, unexpected but totally welcomed. One of the first discoveries that sent me down this rabbit hole of adventure was the Masquerade traditions prevalent in West & Central Africa and the Caribbean diaspora. The images of New York-based Phyllis Galembo were breath-taking, revealing the inventiveness of the masqueraders and their outright beautiful outfits. The colors, materials and poses cast a spell on me. In our age of image saturation, it’s hard to be surprised yet Galembo’s images did just that. The vibrancy and her technical acumen raised the bar. At that time I didn’t realize why it felt new, but after endless hours of research I realized that so much of African photography is typically news/aid driven photojournalism, or old colonial ethnographic archives or the later, the tourism point of view.. it became glaringly clear after awhile what made and continues to make her images powerful.
Do you have any great examples of places in Africa where street style is a
direct reflection of the culture, and what specifically about it?
ML: The Mouride in Dakar are amazing. Swag may be a word of the modern metropole, but when you see it without too much influence from media and trend, you can’t help but find yourself drawn to it. The layering of traditional silhouettes, the grand boubous, with scarves and necklaces embellished with a picture of a religious icon. The play on scale, color and pattern, always in contrast but harmony feel somehow like the CdG of Senegal. When I was there in May, I saw a few. They’d be wandering around town soliciting alms for religious teaching in Touba which was a bit uncomfortable; call it bliss and unnerving at the same time. For ‘Dakarites’ wearing traditional clothing is by no means passé which is great given that the alternative means usually one of two options: second hand cast-offs (not vintage second-hand) or synthetic products from China. So the Mouride’s style’s feels like an edgier take on the traditional.
Source: L: Graniland via Flickr R: Annastrizich via Flickr
I might be secretly jealous of people who’re able to wear color well. I’ve been faithfully wearing black for oh about 15 years, my mum tells me I constantly look like I’m ready to go to a funeral. I guess many of us in New York would be guilty of that. So the urban street style of kids in Johannesburg seems like a pretty nice breath of fresh air, the careless abandon and fun with color. I can’t explain why it is that way, but you definitely do see more freedom with color in South Africa, for example the graphic, pop wall paintings on houses by the Ndbele people comes to mind. South African photographer Chris Saunders has some pretty great photos of a band of kids called ‘The Smarteez’, perhaps the Harajuku kids of Johannesburg?
Source: Chris Saunders | http://www.whatwasparadise.com/
Ndebele artist, Esther Mahlangu portraits
R: Via flickr http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3125/3248113971_da48267fce_z.jpg
While Art and Fashion have always had a special relationship, what is
something unique about it in Africa?
ML: In terms of art, I would say that traditionally in many places throughout the continent, art was not separate from daily life which is rather an incredible notion if you really think about it. The hair comb placed in your hair, was carved from wood and designed as an object, so you could leave it in the afro locks and it would become ornamental. The pyramids of Egypt were not only tombs, they were monumental pieces of architecture that aesthetically have stood the test of time continuing to have this futuristic visual language. There are endless examples of this, however colonialism, post-colonialism and urban/rural poverty have played havoc on the continuation of such ethos.
L: Face Mask: Igbo Wood Collection of Toby and Barry Hecht
R: Hair combs from Missla Libsekal’s personal collection.
What does Africa bring to the fashion world that’s unique? What
can we learn from Africa?
ML: I dream about seeing the continent, the various localities, countries and peoples harnessing the wealth of their creative traditions and ingenuity firstly for their own benefit and then for the rest of the world.
I believe that fractals could be one domain, clearly part of the African consciousness from the crosses of Ethiopia, to the hand woven grass fences of Mali and hair braiding techniques in Senegal. Ron Englash’s TEDtalk gives some remarkable insight into how fractals and their application are unique in African, and how they play a big role in aesthetic and visual language. Applying this to aesthetic qualities on a large scale would certainly make for a boon, and hopefully mean that the Safari x The African Savannah theme would simply be far too obvious for a go-to concept in terms of fashion. Who knows maybe Fractals could become the next Wabi Sabi, that’d be brilliant.
L: Figurine, Private collection of Missla Libsekal.
C: Mangbetu women from the Democratic Republic of Congo circa and source
R: Christian Dior S | S 2009 Runway show
Who are your style icons?
ML: I feel a little pained to say it but I am still amazed by the very person that seemed larger than life to me when I was a kid, Grace Jones. As much as I love her, it feels a tad boring that she still remains one of the most relevant icons for visual inspiration 30+ years since her heyday but I guess I am not the only one.. so many fashion editorials are directly inspired by her. I think that John-Paul Goude and her made one of the best creative teams. He played with codes in a way to reinvent them, and that is exactly it - it was all about reinvention. Her hair stylist would shave her hairline, creating new modern silhouettes that in retrospect I find very much inspired by traditional aesthetics like the Watsui for having incredibly sculptural hair for example. She embraced everything about herself and amplified not toned it down which leaves me in awe (still).
L: Grace Jones (image source unknown)
C: Watsui gentleman
R: Young girl in the Belgian Congo, circa 1929 source Guy Cloetens