« Mercredi, 09h15
salut mon frère,
j’ai pensé à toi :
« Serge Mouangueest un artiste camerounais dont le propre héritage culturel et l’intérêt pour leraffinement particulier du design japonais ont inspiré Wafrica, un projet qui «englobe l’Afrique de l’Ouest et l’esthétique sophistiquée japonaise pour créer un nouveau territoire, redéfinissant notre sens de l’origine».
Mouangue, a travaillé avec des designers japonais pour créer des objets uniques, des vêtements et des performances vivantes qui résument une expérience magnifique et universelle. Les peuples Camerounais se sont déjà illustré dans l’histoire de l’esthétique notamment dans l’architecture Mousgoum une expérience artistique inédite
Le point culminant du projet est le Wafrica African Kimono, réalisé en collaboration avec ODASHO et qui a été vu dans des défilés de mode à travers le monde. Jetez un oeil à la belle robe ci-dessous, ainsi qu’une brève description de la collaboration: « Coupe taillée sur mesure, fabriquée à Kyoto en collaboration avec l’expérience ODASHO de 150 ans dans le kimono, Wafrica kimono capitalise sur le raffinement japonais et l’attention aux détails combinés avec la densité rythmique et la vibration de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. » Quelle audace! « En le mettant au monde, des variantes innovantes du kimono africain ont été montrées à New York, Dakar, Bâle, Stockholm, Kyoto, Paris, Nairobi, Tokyo etc. Les résultats sont tellement plus qu’un mélange de deux cultures existantes. » De quoi inspirer nos jeunes créateurs et créatrices de mode. Plus qu’une ligne de vêtement, c’est une expérience que proposent les deux artistes. » – Source ici
« The artist and designer behind Wafrica discusses connecting West African and Japanese aesthetics without a Western filter and explains how to succeed in a creative field.
Serge Mouangue is known for combining Japanese and West African design elements to create—in a world now full of wax print fusion clothing—kimonos that are both beautiful and unique. But, as he’s quick to emphasize, Wafrica—the label under which his creative projects live—is also about sculpture and live performance. He plans to keep finding new ways to fuse Japanese and West African aesthetics until the concept has been exhausted.
While working in Tokyo as a car designer for Renault, Mouangue had a curious cross-cultural epiphany—that if he were to shed his Frenchness and reveal his African-self he could suddenly communicate far more fully and connect more intimately with the Japanese people and culture around him. We met up with Mouangue at this year’s TED Global conference in Arusha, Tanzania and asked him to explain.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Serge Mouangue: I realized if I behaved more like an African, Japanese people would understand me better. We’d get things done faster. I could understand their social structure, because it’s very similar to what we have in West Africa.
OkayAfrica: What do you mean “behaving like an African?”
SM: Well, I grew up in Paris mainly, and when you grow up in a foreign country you have to adapt. You have to mimic some of the behaviors around you. That disappears when you go back home for vacation or to see the family or things like that. Arriving in Japan I kept my Western ways of seeing the world and I quickly understood that it didn’t work. I discovered that the way Japanese and West Africans socialize is very similar. It’s very codified. It’s very sophisticated. They have a respect for the elders that’s pretty much the same. They are animist as well in terms of belief. Even though Christianity and Muslim is very present in West Africa, underneath people are animist. They believe that every tree has a soul and there’s potentially a god here in that plant. That’s animism and you can see that in Japanese cartoons and anime. That is still present.
I had all kinds of observations but because I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist my way of answering my questions was by creating and doing design. That’s how I started mixing and juxtaposing Japanese aesthetics with West African aesthetics. That’s how « Wafrica » was born and started producing clothing, sculptures, live performances, things like that. […] »
« What inspired you to design kimonos using African fabrics?
While living in Japan, I saw some strong similarities between Africa and Japan. African and Japanese people may look different, but each country embraces the spirit world of animism and each is highly codified and hierarchical. The relationship we have with elders is also the same. In these similarities, I saw a story that could result in a new aesthetic by bringing together two strong cultural icons – wax fabrics from West Africa and the Japanese kimono – and that would allow audiences to explore the meaning of identity.
Can you tell us more about Wafrica?
Wafrica is a registered trademark, but it is not a fashion brand. It is a creative platform where you find different collections of kimonos, live performances and a range of unique works of art that we create with our partners. The idea of combining West African and Japanese aesthetics is at the core of Wafrica. “Wa” is the old name for Japan and means harmony. With Wafrica, my aim is to move beyond the commercial sphere to create a movement or a phenomenon that draws people in and enables them to value diversity and see it as a real plus. In Japan, some are doubtful and don’t know what to make of them. They think the kimonos are nice, and are intrigued by the twist that we have put on them. Others reject them, saying that they are not Japanese. Others take the view that this is the way of the future. It is not Japanese and it is not African, it is just the way the world should evolve. In Africa, they love the kimonos. They don’t always know how to wear them, but that is good, because I don’t want to impose a way to wear my designs.
What other icons have you worked with?
Shortly after I began designing kimonos, I decided to do something similar with Japanese lacquer and African sculptures. That is how “Blood Brothers” came about. I went to a region in Cameroon where they sculpt stools used by pygmy chiefs at village gatherings and took them to Japan, where I began working with a Tokyo-based urushi lacquer-maker. He actually works exclusively for the Japanese emperor, but when I explained my project to him, he was on board immediately. Using ancient techniques, it took two years to complete the lacquer work. Blood brothers and similar lacquer works give these old traditions new life. They are a conversation between two ancient, strong and distinctive identities. They embrace the new possibilities created when the unique cultural icons are merged to form a new and enlightened international consciousness. They are all about hope. Drawing has always been my thing, that’s why I studied design. I started out with interior design and then moved into product design. After my studies, I worked in Australia for a while with Glen Murcutt, winner of the 2002 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Then I went to China to design footwear and, upon returning to France, eventually ended up designing concept cars for Renault. They sent me to Japan, which I found really interesting and intriguing, so I decided to explore different creative avenues. I wanted to create something that reflected my experience as an African in Japan. I took an icon from Japan and an icon from West Africa and merged them into something that not only tells a story of two cultures but carves its own new territory and offers a third aesthetic. I designed my first kimono in 2007 out of curiosity really. It created a real buzz and people started asking me to make one for them. A friend suggested I ought to start putting a name to my creations and so eventually we came up with the name Wafrica. What does design mean to you?
I don’t actually think about it too much. I focus on building and changing the environment by creating a new narrative using things that we can touch, hear, smell and live with. Design is a way to tell a story through things that we can feel. As human beings we are much more driven by our emotions than we like to admit. In the West, we try to bring functional logic to things, but in reality, emotional values are far more important and have a much greater impact on how we feel about the things that surround us.
What inspires you?
I am very interested in the idea of our origin and our birth. It is the most precious, intimate, luxurious, fragile thing we have, and yet it is the most common thing we share. That we all come from somewhere and that we all have a journey to share is what interests me. I am very sensitive to how people move in space and their body language and physicality. Sound also inspires me. I always wear headphones when I design because it brings something emotional to the process and triggers new ideas. If you listen to John Coltrane you may design a teacup in one way and if you listen to Amy Winehouse you may come up with a completely different design. I like to be taken up by music when I design. I like it when my work destabilizes an audience. I like to take them on a journey that forces them to confront new perspectives and to explore a new world through elements that we know intimately. I play with deeply embedded symbols and icons and twist them a little so people confront new perspectives. My role is to connect objects and ideas to make people feel that we are closer to each other than we think. We often get caught up in the idea of identity as if it is something static that we can own, but that is a meaningless fantasy. I like to go beyond narrow definitions of identity and to focus on our shared universal origin. Our identity is constantly evolving. It is more like a journey, and that is what is most interesting and important to me.
Has globalization been an opportunity for you?
Yes. That’s my story. From a creator’s perspective, globalization is a great opportunity for artists and creators from different parts of the world to get in touch with each other and work together to come up with something new and different. We are all human beings and there is much more than the “identity” story to tell. Let’s bring things and people together. Let’s keep creating together, share each other’s stories and question our origins and identities. There is so much we haven’t discovered yet. »
« Mercredi, 09h29
Hey mon frère
Exceptionnel. Exceptionnel. Talent, tu dis? A ce niveau, je ne sais pas, je vais marcher entre les mots pour trouver le terme approprié 🙂
Ton padawan »
« The contrasting landscapes of Japan and Africa may seem, literally, worlds apart. But they have been artfully united in a collaboration between an African designer and a traditional Japanese kimono-maker. Launched last month, Wafrica — Africa plus wa for Japan — has unveiled a range of kimono handcrafted in an array of African cotton fabrics that would seem to be a million miles from the subtle silks more commonly associated with traditional Japanese dress. Yet despite the orange comets and flashes of lightning tearing across a moss-green background, and the tribal swirls in colors that recall the sun-drenched African soil, the prints blend seamlessly into the kimono form before they surprise Japanese shoppers with their foreign origin.
The cultural cocktail is the brainchild of Serge Mouangue, a Tokyo-based concept- car designer for Nissan, who joined forces with Kururi, a Tokyo-based kimono- maker, to produce the traditional Japanese attire in 18 African prints sourced in markets from Nigeria to Senegal.
In the sedate confines of the Kururi store on Aoyama Dori, visitors are drawn to the bright outfits placed prominently in the window display.
“These kimono have vivid colors, and the impact is powerful,” says Izumi Ichikawa, one of the store assistants, who is immaculately clad in a more conventional pastel-hued piece. “People expect more neutral tones in kimono, but these attract younger, modern people who are looking for something different.”
“These color combinations are not found in traditional fabrics and are new to kimono,” adds Yoko Nagai, the merchandiser at Kururi, which has been selling kimono for 15 years. “And the printed wax cotton used in Wafrica kimono does not exist in traditional kimono materials.”
Such a lack of familiarity between materials and form strengthens the effect that Mouangue is seeking to create.
“I do not want the end result to belong to Africa, nor should it belong to Japan. It is not a ‘fusion,’ ” says Mouangue, who was born in Cameroon and grew up in Paris. “I want it to be something else. It should transcend the boundaries of both cultures. It is a third aesthetic.”
Mouangue moved to Tokyo with his Australian wife and their children two years ago and was instantly drawn to exploring the similarities and differences between Africa and Japan.
“They may appear different on the surface but they do share some cultural similarities,” the 35-year-old says. “Both societies are very tribal and have a respect for hierarchy and an appreciation of the power of silence.
“And then there are the differences. In Japan there is no improvisation. Here, improvisation can mean trouble, shame, difficulties. But in Africa, it means life, renewal, health and spirit.”
The seed of Wafrica was planted earlier this year when Mouangue decided to explore mixing the two cultural landscapes in the form of one of the most iconic symbols of Japan: the kimono.
“The kimono is an icon of Japan,” says Mouangue. “I’m fascinated by the cut and the attitude and poise it creates among women when they wear them.
“Putting on a kimono is an immensely complex process. It is like a building, with layer after layer. But the complexity disappears when it is put together, and the end result is pure beauty and timelessness.”
For Mouangue, his kimono project is neither a fashion statement nor a commercially motivated venture. In between sips of a mango smoothie in a cafe near the Aoyama store, he energetically draws diagrams of rivers and mountains and valleys to explain his conceptual motivations. “The connection between two different worlds such as Africa and Japan may be hidden,” he says. “There may be a sea that seems to separate the two places. But we are all connected. There is earth under the sea that links us all, but we can’t always see it. This is a project that tries to show that connection.”
Since Mouangue has connections to Cameroon, Paris and Australia, and is now living in Japan, it was a natural progression for questions surrounding identity, home and cultural boundaries to have motivated the project.
“Being here as a designer, I have to ask myself where I come from, where will my children call home,” he says. “I have been asking myself that since I arrived. This is a way of trying to find answers. It is one more way of narrating a story.”
It’s a story Kururi is keen to embrace.
“We are pioneering new projects with the kimono,” says Kururi’s Nagai. “We introduced the use of denim in the past, so our company is very suited to Wafrica.”
For the kimono industry, such modern interventions should be regarded as no less than a breath of fresh air. Speaking volumes in relation to the social status, aesthetics and even emotions of the wearer, the art of wearing a kimono has long been considered as culturally significant as tea ceremony and ikebana.
Though once common, the popularity of Japan’s national dress has steadily been usurped by increasing exposure to Western fashions since the end of the World War II. Today, the kimono industry has shrunk dramatically, with fewer than one in 10 Japanese women wearing a kimono rather than a Western-style dress on their wedding day.
The creation of classic kimono with a modern twist — in the form of styling or fabrics — has been one way of reviving the fortunes of the ailing national dress, according to Yoshichika Kitamura, a Japanese-culture expert.
“Kimono is a Japanese-orientated national costume, so most Japanese women like to use traditional Japanese patterns,” he says. “But among young women today, there may be a growing attraction for non-Japanese fabrics or unusual patterns.”
But mixing African fabrics with Japanese dress was no easy challenge. While silk fabrics are traditionally used in Japanese kimono, Mouangue insisted that cotton — the fabric of Africa — be used in his creations.
“African women are supposed to show their bodies,” he says. “The cut of their traditional babu dress may be from loose cotton, but when they move it is designed to show all their curves.
“In African dress, womanly lines are celebrated. In Japan, the shape is different; it is more like a tube.”
The future of Wafrica will not be confined to kimono. Mouangue has approached local craftsmen about other kinds of collaborations with Japanese and African materials and art forms. They, much like the kimono-makers, are more than open to such ideas.
“I am hoping to expand this to include other aspects of Japanese culture,” says Mouangue. “This is just the start. It is about finding a third aesthetic. Telling a familiar story a different way. The end result? It’s about hope, and it’s about the future.” »
« Fashion has over the past decade or so seen a gradual increase in the use of African-inspired prints and silhouettes, mainly derived from the West and East African regions.We have seen these influences on the runways of Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, OAMC, and Thakoon, among others. Many thought that like any other trend, African-inspired garments and accessories would peak and fizzle after a season or two.
However, Africa as a reference point has, instead, proven to have significant staying power and has diversified further into other industries, largely because it responds to and speaks to the genuine needs and interests of a large sum of global consumers – black people.
Despite what may appear to be the case, this trend was not fueled by Africans in Africa. Rather, it was initially put forth by African diaspora millennials across Europe and the U.S. – and then carried further by big brands and other entities, alike. As this generation of black youth has come of age, we have seen them look to the cultural heritage of their parents and ancestors, largely borne of an absence of representation in the mass media.
No shortage of these individuals has looked to their ancestral sensibilities and applied them to their own lives (in many instances neglecting to do the necessary research into the various symbolism and appropriate usage of the pieces); they have built businesses, fashion brands, blogs, and other media outlets as a way to validate – and monetize – their interpretations of African culture. As a result, this generation plays a key role – albeit unintentionally – in leading the global narrative on Africa and its fashion (accurately depicted or otherwise), and – more generally – blackness.
In terms of fashion, many African expatriates have been drawn to some of the more performative aspects of African cultures, looking to traditional and traditional-inspired fabrics, beads, etc. What is often overlooked in the modern-day treatment of Africa is the fact that the continent has thriving streetwear, bridal, swimwear, footwear, and jewelry brands with offerings that are capable of seamlessly transcending borders. Still yet, where we can, we are also a vibrant tech-savvy youth documenting our reality and aspirations online.
Despite what you might see on the runway or in editorials, it is worth noting that African youths do not walk around in Kente dashikis and seShweShwe headwraps – similar to how the Japanese youth, for example, do not live their daily lives in Hikizuri Kimonos. Such creations and styling, while the result of African influence, are – in reality – not an accurate depiction of the fashions created or worn by a majority of Africans in Africa today. Instead, they are juxtapositions of indigenous cultural and religious beauty standards, socio-economic circumstances, organic local fashion subcultures, as well as the Western ideals imposed through generations of colonialism and systematic racism with current global trends.
African fashion is a melting pot of ideas and aesthetics unlike anywhere else in the world. That is also often excluded from the global mass media’s coverage of African fashion. In fact, brands based in Africa, which have received the most consistent global attention, are often those that peddle aspects of African-ness that appeal to the white and Western gaze – namely colorful prints and beads – in ways which often lean towards being a form of caricature of that culture. By no coincidence, these are in line with the aspects cherry picked by African expatriates in furtherance of this trend.
Millennials now comprise 37 percent of Africa’s population and 70 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population is under the age of 30, making it the world’s most youthful continent. With that comes a constantly diversifying approach to fashion that deserves to be covered, respected and supported globally, and led by Africans in Africa. »
« Mercredi, 09h46
Hé mon frère,
Vu de haut comme tu le fais, tu n’as qu’à te pencher un peu, l’air est bon.