Curator/Collections Researcher

Fashioning Africa

Collections Documentation
Date From
December 2017
Date To
April 2020

Fashioning Africa was a project to collect postcolonial fashion and accessories from across the African continent, responding to and complementing Brighton Museum’s designated collection of historic African textiles. The team collected over 450 items, working with a collecting panel which included expertise from lived experience and academia. I joined the project to document these new acquisitions.

The Situation


This contemporary collecting model meant that the museum had been able to collect oral histories, personal photos and ephemera along with the objects – the personal stories that make the garments come to life. In many cases museums suffer from a lack of contextual information relating to their objects, especially for collections which are not from the European art historical tradition. To have such a wealth of information was refreshing but also presented its own challenges – how to record this information in the collections management system so that it could be accessed and used in the future.

Another challenge came in how to name and describe garments. Resources like ICOM’s Vocabulary of Basic Terms for Cataloguing Costume are widely used in the sector to ensure standardisation of terms, but these are based on European styles of costume which wasn’t always applicable to the items I was documenting.

The Action


For each item we decided it was appropriate to give items more than one name. This was usually the name(s) that someone from the cultural group that originated the outfit would call it, along with the nearest equivalent English term. For example the top part of a woman’s aso-oke outfit from Nigeria was given the names ‘Buba’ (the Yoruba name) and ‘Blouse’, while a top from Ghana was titled ‘Blouse’ and ‘Batakari’. This meant that one could search for either term and find the item.

The Result


Using Brighton Museum’s microsite model, I wanted to include the high quality professional images that the museum had commissioned, as well as key details about each object, without the site feeling like a database online. The Fashioning Africa microsite was the perfect opportunity to showcase some of the personal stories and ephemera collected alongside the items, including photographs of some of the original owners wearing their garments. This approach created a feeling of connection to the lives that have been lived in these clothes.