This year’s Foto-Festival Knokke-Heist takes as its central theme ‘Haute Africa’. Until 9th June, Belgium’s international photography biennial takes over the coastal town of Knokke-Heist with an outdoor exhibition bringing together world-renowned artists whose works explore African fashion, dress practices and aesthetics. The aim is to celebrate African art and style as well as incite debate.
“Artists have become fascinated by African clothing culture and the various social and economic conditions that fashion expresses,” says Christophe De Jaeger, curator of Haute Africa. “Certain artists are carried away by the optimism of the vibrant fashion scene and disseminate a positive image of Africa. Others take a more critical stance and establish relationships between fashion, ethnography, emancipation and political power.”
Magnum photographer Martin Parr is the festival’s ambassador. He contributes his Luxury series, which includes candid images of a South African elite wearing Western designer clothes and sipping champagne at the Durban July races. Conversely Daniele Tamagni and Bauduin Mouanda’s images document the lives of a different kind of elite, the Sapeurs of Congo-Brazzaville whose devotion to designer suits marks them out as local celebrities. Meanwhile Nontsikelelo Veleko's photography captures the individual street styles of Johannesburg’s youth.
These and other participating artists including Jim Naughten, Jehad Nga, Yinka Shonibare, Wangechi Mutu, Viviane Sassen, Zanele Muholi, Hassan Hajjaj, Nontsikelelo Veleko, Jodi Bieber, Phyllis Galembo and Namsa Leuba, are opening up a new discourse where art and fashion collide. The many interconnections between the two disciplines enable Africa’s creative industries to find a global voice.
Foto-Festival Knokke-Heist 2014 further encouraging wonder and dialogue about Africa, photography and fashion through the festival’s accompanying book Haute Africa, which includes discursive essays alongside profiles of each artist.
Foto-Festival Knokke-Heist 2014, until 9th June, Knokke-Heist, Belgium
The book Haute Africa (Lanoo, 2014), is out now
Images: courtesy of Jim Naughten, Baudoin Mouanda, Nontsikelelo Veleko
Words: Helen Jennings