By Mary Fischer
After the unpleasant events surrounding the bias attacks of the past three weeks that caused much outrage and bitterness, the Runway To Africa in the Root Room on Saturday, February 23 came as a beautiful call for cultural awareness.
The African Student Association (ASA) hosted and organized this event to present fashion from African countries along with African-influenced music and dance. Almost half of the clothes presented were sown in one of the basement rooms in Kahn in the weeks leading up to the event, while others were contributed by students from the ASA, making four different runs possible in the course of the two hour show. The four fashion presentations were framed by African and African-influenced dance, music performances and short sketches, as well as a presentation by Kenya Reads, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that was founded by Oberlin College students Peterson Njamunge ’14 and Shauna Godfrey ’14.
The show began with a dance show by the Dance Diaspora accompanied by five drummers. The colorful costumes of the dancers and small bells on their feet accentuated their rhythmic movements and a sense of joyful energy that filled the room.
A short introduction by two students from the ASA followed. They stressed not only the importance of an awareness of the richness of African culture, and a focus not only on the hunger and poverty in Africa, but also on its beauty. This statement was clearly proven in the two runs that followed, which were marked by fabulous patterns, colors and cuts.
Prior to a short intermission, Peterson Njamunge gave a short talk on Kenya Reads that he co-founded with Shauna Godfrey in 2011, which focuses on providing access to school, textbooks, and novels in the Kenyan Slum, Kiamaina. Today it provides books for about 2,000 children as well as an after-school mentoring program.
The ten-minute intermission provided an opportunity to donate money to ASA for sustained NGOs that undertake programs in Africa by buying African food, jewelry and clothing. Although fundraising certainly was also an aspect of the evening, it was done in a very subtle and respectful manner, without the emphasizing an outcry for donations. Clearly what was important to the organizers of the event was to present Africa as a continent of proud and strong people, who despite the many struggles and atrocities they faced, had not lost their sense of culture.
Two more fashion shows followed the intermission, with a focus on contemporary fashion such as street-wear and prêt-à-porter office looks. The models received much applause, both for the costumes and their confidence in presenting themselves on the catwalk. Thus ended a small, but impressive insight into the wide variety of African fashion, offering a glimpse of cultures that are often forgotten by the media, which all too often focuses on the negative aspects of Africa.
After this inspirational fashion show I hope that we will see more African clothing mixed into the usual worn out jeans and washed out t-shirt style at Oberlin.
Photos by Mary Fischer