Placing the practice of fashion within the politics of memory with Sindiso Khumalo

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Based on the Jagger African Studies library that burned down in April of this year, the collection is a homage to the treasures of African literature that were lost. (Sindiso Khumalo/ Instagram)
Based on the Jagger African Studies library that burned down in April of this year, the collection is a homage to the treasures of African literature that were lost. (Sindiso Khumalo/ Instagram)

Fashion or prevailing style is something that people across generations, cultures, traditions, borders and seas have in common. It is one of the oldest practices and each of us have some sort of experience, history and memory of style or forms of dressing. My entry into fashion as a practice that carries aesthetic memories began with old family photographs. In the process of trying to make sense of my mother’s aesthetic in her late twenties (including low Sade-like buns, short fringes, high waist pants and sheer tops, Revlon lipstick, and understated gold jewelry) I felt like I was surprisingly staring at a historical record, an anecdote of sorts, explaining some of my unspoken aesthetic choices.

It dawned on me that even without my direct knowledge, I had spent my twenties chasing her style. My aesthetic choices are were unwittingly influenced by my mother. I found myself more drawn to silhouettes that I saw in her old images and recreated some of these looks to match her fashion choices. Much of her aesthetics are also inherited and are also a defiance of this inheritance, or perhaps an elaboration of the threads that my great grandmother and grandmother embodied. Through the recent SS21 Collections of South African designers, Sindiso Khumalo and Thebe Magugu, respectively titled ‘SS 2 JAGER A Homage to the University of Cape Town Jagger African Studies Library’ and ‘SS2 GENEALOGY.’ I will look at the ways in which they situate the practice of fashion within the politics of memory and how they use fashion as a social practice. Part 1 of this piece will focus on Sindiso Khumalo’s collection and Part 2 will look at Thebe Magugu’s collection.  

Large parts of our fashion choices are not merely inventions of our subjective stylistic choices. The styles that we are drawn to and our aesthetic preoccupations are expression of much broader instinct. This instinct is influenced by a visual order that is entrenched in the technologies race, class and gender. The formation of style not only reflects individual choices but our proximity to technologies of visual power. Some stylistic efforts are borne out of necessity and survival, in other words, certain clothing become the symbolic signifier for communities and people because they are borne out of the specific conditions, availability of material and how conducive those forms of styling are in the process of living.

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