Review: Art Twenty One attempts to marry art and fashion

Many say fashion and art are inseparable even though the art and fashion circles are distinct and are often wary of each other. The new exhibition at Art Twenty One (the Eko Hotel Lagos’s in-house gallery space) wants to mine the truth of this aphorism.

After weeks of teasing and a relentless media campaign, invited lovers of art and fashion were ushered in to see its fifth and final exhibition of the year. Crowds gathered in small groups around the exhibiting corners, taking in the art with the fashion exhibits garnering the biggest audiences. ‘Platform’ is the first time the gallery is inviting people from other creative disciplines to exhibit at its space.

On its exhibitor roster were photographers Chinenye Godsproperty John and Kadara Enyeasi, multi-disciplinary designers Ada Umeofia (known for her ‘CRAWL SPACE’ interactive pavilion and Yinka Ilori (known for his ‘upcycled’ vintage furniture). There were also emerging designers I.AM.ISIGO, Tzar, Maxivive and Tokyo James; all first time exhibitors showing work from their most recent collections.

Getting an invitation to exhibit from one’s body of work is a rare opportunity for a fashion designer. Shed of the responsibility to ‘market’ clothes to industry buyers who eschew theatrics for an easy to consume fashion presentation; designers can focus on the art of designing itself, selling the ideas and influences that shape the work they choose to exhibit. This didn’t happen at Platform. Of course, the designers were all on top form with their presentation: Tokyo James built an elaborate set, a dream atelier space. I.AM.ISIGO’s recreated her V.I show room in her space, completel with tyre furniture and bicycle dress racks and not to forget Ian Audifferen’s maze of hung shirts.

However, there was little that immediately drew in to any of the designers artistic lives. The presentations, while elaborate, were merely fancy store window displays, instead of legitimate expressions of art.

It would have been interesting perhaps, to see unfinished garments or visual representations of the places, things or ideas that inspired the clothes that were exhibited. Maybe that or even a fashion film could have given the audience taking in their displays more context, helped them understand the process through which an idea becomes a dress or shirt.

Maybe it was an unwillingness to push themselves as artists, or an inability to see the possibilities the Art Twenty One Platform exhibition literally offers them, or maybe the designers interpreted the missive a little too literally, one can’t tell. But compared to quiet but compelling art of the other exhibitors, the fashion designers on show seemed all artifice and no substance.

For a month (the 13th of December 2015 – 12 January 2016) Art Twenty One will let you discover multi-disciplinary art, and decide for yourself if contemporary West African art and fashion are moving apace of each other and how far they have come.

Art Twenty One is at The Eko Hotel, Ademola Adetokunbo street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

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