DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Fashion show by Oumou Sy

22 September 2007, 9 pm, Kulturbahnhof, Bahnhofsplatz 1

On 22 September 2007, the Kulturbahnhof in Kassel hosted a fashion show by Senegalese artist and fashion designer Oumou Sy. It featured new collections as well as a retrospective of her past work, including the historical review of the robes of African queens and kings. Besides ten models who have worked with Oumou Sy for many years, 150 people from Kassel and the surrounding region took part in the show.

Photo: Isabel Winarsch
Métissage – “mishmash” or “crossing” – is how Oumou Sy describes her artistic method that works light-heartedly with different traditions, styles and materials. Feather collars, strings of beads, and amulets are just as much part of Sy’s repertoire as metal and vinyl are. She employs old weaving techniques and dying procedures, works with embroidery, leatherwork and jewellery. She uses hand-woven or naturally dyed materials of cotton, silk or raffia, and fine fabrics with metal threads.

Oumou Sy draws on different formal repertoires for her designs, thus side-stepping the usual geopolitical classification and the widespread “demand for identity” (Olu Oguibe) often facing artists from non-Euro-American backgrounds. Oumou Sy’s Africa is certainly larger and more diverse than the usual media version. With ironic nonchalance, her creations defy such blinkered visions of a continent commonly portrayed in the west as a trouble spot or safari park. Oumou Sy’s awareness of forms is always an awareness of the history from which the form is wrested.

This is shown particularly clearly by the panorama of African royal robes that illustrates centuries of Senegalese history. For hundreds of years, Dakar was a crossroads of several trade routes, placing it at the focal point of migratory flows that have left their mark on the language of fashion. Sy’s royal review extends from the mythical princess Assian Yatabaré, who was to be sacrificed to a snake that cried golden tears, through to the Mauritanian king Ouldou Mokhtar, who made a profit selling slaves and women.

Biographical details

Oumou Sy works at the interface between fashion, art, and social space. Her creations display a free approach to materials, forms, patterns and styles. The interplay between traditional fabrics and motifs and modern elements gives rise to innovative, stylish and humorous compositions. Besides working in haute couture and prêt-à-porter, Sy also designs jewellery and accessories, as well as costumes for screen and stage. The street, too, is a potential setting for her collections: she is a founder and co-organizer of the Dakar Carnival and of Dakar’s international fashion week.

Sy is involved in the training of fashion designers and has created her own label “Made in Africa”. At her schools, she teaches students both traditional and modern techniques of her craft. The main focus here is building up local, national and international infrastructures for African textile manufacture. She also opened West Africa’s first ever Internet café in Dakar and launched an initiative to connect several hundred Senegalese villages to the Internet.

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