ASA’s Baiwai: Unveiling Africa’s Beauty

On February 24th, 2024, the Washington University in St. Louis’s African Student Association (ASA), orchestrated an extraordinary spectacle, drawing the campus community into a kaleidoscope of colors, rhythms, and narratives at its annual fashion show. Hieran Andeberhan, the current Vice-President of ASA, sets the tone for this fashion show, “Fashion is important to African culture as it is a way of celebrating one’s ethnic group and/or nationality as fashion is unique to each region… We center our annual showcase on fashion as that is one way of highlighting the vast diversity within the African continent.” This year’s theme, “Baiwa: Unveiling Africa’s Beauty,” served as a poignant tribute to the continent’s multifaceted heritage, curated with meticulous care by Creative Director Zoe Al-Tawiti.

Al-Tawiti, drawing from her rich cultural lineage and familial influences, explained the significance behind the theme, stating, “Baiwa comes from the Hausa tribe of Nigeria and the word means talent,” while also referencing her late aunt’s TV talk show, “Unveiling Africa,” which aimed to empower the African diaspora and foster understanding among non-Africans. This theme, rooted in empowerment and cross-cultural appreciation, set the stage for an evening that would transcend mere fashion and transform into a celebration of identity and community.

Photo 1: Zoe Al-Tawiti, the creative director, giving an opening speech.

One of the things to highlight in this show was the art of its organizer and the poetics. Graham Chapel was transformed into a vibrant hub pulsating with energy and creativity. The evening commenced with an episodic dissemination of traditional fashion showcases, cultural performances that set the tone for the event, and interludes of activism. Amidst the rhythmic beats and graceful movements, attendees were transported on a journey across Africa: West African, East African, North African, Central and South African cultures. 

As the show unfolded, attendees were treated to an immersive experience transcending traditional fashion shows’ boundaries. The space was fully utilized, with performers emerging from both the front and back, creating a dynamic and interactive environment. The audience found themselves shifting their attention back and forth, fully engaged in the vibrant experience unfolding before them.

Photos 7 – 12: A variety of performances attributed to cultural traditions.

However, this wasn’t limited to historical dances and fashions. Showcasing the future of Pan-Africanism in America, we were introduced to contemporary Afro-beats and dances and HERMENSVALID, an up and coming fashion designer.

Photos: 12 – 14: The afro-beats performance.

However, this wasn’t limited to historical dances and fashions. Showcasing the future of Pan-Africanism in America, we were introduced to contemporary Afro-beats and dances and HERMENSVALID, an up and coming fashion designer

Halima Larhdiri, one of the performers/model, shared insights into the performances, highlighting their significance in representing diverse cultures. “Our dance had an Amazighi Algerian component as well as a Moroccan Chaabi component. Both are very popular cultural dances in the region of Morocco and we felt served their purpose of representing our country and its culture,” she explained.

Abir Hamdaoui, another performer/model, echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the honor of showcasing both Amazighi and Arab cultures through their performances, she states, “Showing both the Amazighi (Kabyle performance) and Arab cultures (Chaabi dance) that are the biggest populations in North Africa was such an honor.”

Furthermore, the carefully personally curated garments, each imbued with stories of family, tradition, and resilience, connected past, present, and future. The interplay of fashion and performance seamlessly unfolded as models adorned in traditional attire graced the runway. Each garment was a canvas, showcasing the intricate craftsmanship and rich cultural symbolism woven into every thread.  Several models graced the runway adorned in attire imbued with profound personal histories. Hamdaoui, wearing a Moroccan caftan, shared its rich legacy: “The Caftan is a Moroccan attire that dates back to the 15th century. It has been part of our culture for so many years, and it’s mostly worn during big celebrations like weddings for instance. That specific caftan that I wore was actually my mother’s. She got it done when she was pregnant with my brother, and it was made precisely for my uncle’s wedding.” 

Another model, Ange Muyumba, proudly displayed a dress tailored by her older sister Eunice, crafted from vibrant “paigne” fabric. Reflecting on its significance, she explained, “The fabric I wore is called ‘paigne’ in French. It is known for its colorful, eye-catching, and ornate designs that usually reflect a story/connection to one’s tribe or region. It is worn in all sorts of ways (pants, tops, hats, blankets, even shoes and purses) and can be worn in all kinds of styles for any function.” These personal anecdotes added depth and meaning to the fashion show, transforming it into a celebration of familial love, cultural heritage, and individual expression.

Amidst the spectacle of fashion and performance, the underlying message of unity and empowerment resonated deeply. For many attendees, the fashion show served as a reminder of the beauty and richness inherent in African culture. “My culture isn’t well known here in the US so whenever I have the chance to share to the world I never hesitate,” expressed Hamdaoui, echoing the sentiment shared by many.

As the evening drew to a close, there was a palpable sense of gratitude and inspiration among attendees. The organizers were praised for their vision and execution, while participants reflected on the profound impact of the experience. Yet they did not stop there, leaving space for unity between Africa and Palestine. In addition to the many atrocities that are happening in Africa.

Photo 15: The co-president, Bashar Sulyman, gives the ending speech.

Muyumba spoke on Congo and why this show was so meaningful when she stated, “With the war happening in East Congo, I wanted to bring attention to the beauty and richness within the Congo, too. To be Congolese is to be welcoming, generous, and most of all, find light in darkness. I hope that if anything, people will remember that.” Every part of her presentation was planned strategically, stating, “I wore my hair in the shape of a crown in honor of traditional hairstyles from the region of Katanga, where my family’s ancestry lies.” Her dress was made by her sister because she wanted “to echo the importance of family in Congolese culture.” In addition, for her jewelry, she stated “I wore gold hair pins and crystal-like beads to symbolize the richness of the Congo.” Already carving out a deep impression she finished with, “The Congo is already such a misrepresented place in the media and very under-represented, so it is important to me that my words are used to represent my heritage.”

 It was a night to remember, a celebration of culture, heritage, and identity that left an indelible mark on all who attended. In the end, the fashion show was more than just an event; it was a testament to the beauty, resilience, and richness of African culture. It communicated that fashion is simply more than clothes. The fashion show played with spatiality and temporality. Through Zoe Al-Tawiti’s visionary direction and the collective efforts of ASA, the event succeeded in uplifting and centering African voices, fostering understanding and appreciation across cultures. It was a night of celebration, empowerment, and unity, leaving a lasting impression on all who had the privilege of attending.

Finally, I will leave with a final quote from Muyumba, “Now more than ever is an important time to change the narratives that have been placed on African culture.”

Author David Win
Photographs Binita Fall

Armour Magazine Season 31 — F/S 2024

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