Why the Cultural Encyclopedia Matters for African Fashion

ACCRA, Ghana - The richness of the African continent is arguably undisputed, but largely unreflected in mass modern media. Ghanaian writer, filmmaker, and art historian Nana Oforiatta-Ayim set out to change that with the Cultural Encyclopedia.

In Oforiatta-Ayim's own words, "the Cultural Encyclopedia is a large-scale documentation and archive project in order to facilitate the re/ordering of knowledge, narratives and representations from and about the African continent." An open-source digital repository designed to cover subject matter as varied as visual arts and literature to science and sociology, the platform puts past, present, and future African arts and culture at one's fingertips. With plans to publish 54 volumes, one for each country, the Cultural Encyclopedia signifies a living space for dialogue in a region often misrepresented by a few themes, such as poverty, sickness, and corruption. With such an important mission, what does its existence mean for the development of the fashion industry?

 Photo Courtesy of Cultural Encyclopedia

Photo Courtesy of Cultural Encyclopedia

The arts have long been an influence to creatives and cultural producers on the continent. Increased accessibility to these books, sound bites, vintage photographs, and historical works legitimize the importance of African contributions to knowledge and innovation to a broader audience. Projects like the Cultural Encyclopedia shed greater light on the monumental happenings that took place on the ground pre-colonialism and pre-slavery: the continent was evolving and transforming the realms of architecture, philosophy, mathematics, film, and theatre then as it is now. How these reference points from all corners of Africa will manifest in the yet-to-be conceived collections of contemporary designers suggests an even brighter future ahead.