Did you know that wax print fabrics didn’t actually originate in Africa? The story has been told that they originated in Indonesia and were then copied by the Dutch and sold to Africans. Despite that history, these fabrics have become deeply rooted in the identity and culture of many countries in Africa. So are these fabrics really African then? That’s the subject of the documentary, Wax Print Film, that inspired Accra’s first Wax Print Festival.
Amma Aboagye, Founder of Afropole, is the creator and lead curator of Wax Print Fest, which was a three-day festival that took place 14th-16th June. It attracted people from all walks of life who have a love for art, fashion, music and culture. With 2019 being ‘Year of Return’, Aboagye felt an event like this was a great way to bring together people from the diaspora as well as local Ghanaians to discuss and interact about this topic around wax print fabrics.
Aboagye said that bringing the Wax Print Film to Ghana was an opportunity to engage people in the conversation about our textiles and their history. The film travels across four continents exploring the origins of wax prints. Along the way, it sparks conversations about identity, tradition and culture. It screened on the second night of the festival and was followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker, Aiwan Obinyan.
Obinyan said it was because of her clothing line that she wanted to create a short film showing her customers how Wax Print is made. “I went with the assumption that I knew already just by virtue of the fact that I’m Nigerian and I grew up with it.” With each question, while making the film, she found herself on a two-year journey travelling four continents. She said, “…so much of the world is connected in ways that I wasn’t aware of through what seems like just this inanimate object that we wear as clothing and yet united four continents across 200 years of history that was really powerful to me.”
The sense of connection was felt at the festival where people from around the world travelled to attend. A couple from the U.S. said they had just arrived in Accra because of Year of Return. They were looking forward to connecting with their African ancestry. When they learned about the festival, they knew they had to attend and find out about the popular African printed fabrics they see sold in America too.
Festivities also included exhibitions, vendors, demonstrations and performances from local artists who kept the crowd moving to some of the best beats and lyrics. Artists who performed included Abena Rockstar, Maa Yaa, DJ Vim Tinz, Ria Boss and Trigmatic.
The festival may have been focused on wax prints, but there was also a spotlight on kente fabrics. Mr. Eric Qwarteng is a kente weaver from Bonwire, the town world famous for its history in kente weaving. He spent time teaching visitors how it’s woven and even stepped aside for some to put their hands on the loom and give it a try themselves. The interactive experience was fun for those who’ve never seen how kente is made.
The closing night featured a panel discussion on the ‘Future of Fashion’. Panellists included Nana Adjoa Adobea Asante, Acting Director of National Folklore Board, Mr. Joseph Yao Amoah, Senior Research Scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Aiwan Obinyan, Director of Wax Print Film, Paul Kweku Akrofie, Creative Director of RPC Brand and Viola Labi, CEO of Woven. They were all asked their thoughts on the future of fashion in Africa in one word and among their responses was, “Excellent” and “Tech.” The discussions centred around what lies ahead and managing the textile industry being threatened by the many fakes sold in the marketplace.
On the last day, Aboagye expressed her satisfaction in how things went overall. “I feel like we’ve sown a seed…..and excited to explore the topic more, over the course of the year.” She said there were many highlights at the festival and it will definitely be back next year.
Written by Ivy Prosper