Part II: Placing the practice of fashion within the politics of memory with Thebe Magugu

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A screenshot from Thebe Magugu's spring/summer 2022 fashion film Geneaology. (Thebe Magugu/ YouTube)
A screenshot from Thebe Magugu's spring/summer 2022 fashion film Geneaology. (Thebe Magugu/ YouTube)

Fashion is a language, it is an encoded aesthetic practice that forms part of the machinery of communication. Ed Roberson writes: “To communicate in language we have to admit, then touch and bring back, what is left out […] we have to be aware of how a communication in language must be constantly emptying to be fulfilled. The inevitable fate of language is negotiation and the acceptance of negated speech in the process of communication as a core components of language itself. Fashion provide designers with a congenial space to create new algorithms and systems of communication, I like to think about the process of making garments through Roberson’s logic, it requires an admission, retouching, making sense of what is to be left out of its structure, to contemplate silhouette, to think about shape, material – it is a constant process of filling and emptying of ideas and form. 

I am always interested in the places and spaces that art practitioners and designers draw from in the process of creation. Across disciplines and artistic mediums people derive information about their practices from vast often unrelated spaces. For instance, music information and its creation can be derived from listening to silence, it does not necessarily have to come from other music. Some painters derive information from reading and the catalyst for designer Thebe Magugu it can be found in the preservation of memory, photographs and archives. Magugu is South African contemporary designer and brand, he uses fashion to revisit archives and tell new stories. In his latest spring collection, Magugu pays homage to his family by uses family photographs as an important object of social study and memory.

He creates off the canvas of  images making new link between the past and present representations of Black cultural aesthetics in South Africa. He shows that something new sometimes comes out of the borrowed. At first I was so moved to see how his family has managed to preserve precious photographs of family members in light of the perilous times of their capture. Black family photographs have quite a fugitive life – revealing frozen moments of people that we may not know and elaborating further about known figures. The fugitiveness arises in how these photographs move, who last saw or had them in their possession and current whereabouts.  

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