The Collective Conciousness In Fashion And Performance

By: Misa Makwakwa Masokameng

Historically, Afropunk sought to bring people “on the fringe” into “the fold”. The same sentiment applies to its performers. Through fashion, performers draw their audiences into their performance art. Every artist has a ritual of becoming, and the dressing room is the shrine. Musical performances have changed over the years, thanks to technological advancements. However, the one aspect of any performance that has remained constant is the importance of fashion.

Fashion is part of the iconography of black womxn in pop culture. For example, Thandiswa Mazwai has been in the entertainment industry for nearly 20 years. Her style can be described as afro-futuristic; blending the beauty of elaborate bead work and braid styles, to geometric garment structures and colors. In her way, she personifies what could be imagined of a meeting between an African ancestor and a South African in the year 3000. Mazwai is recognized throughout Africa and beyond; and the juxtapositioning of her art to African cultures, through fashion and performance, cememet black womxn further into international pop culture history.

In the formative years of American pop culture, black people’s intellectual and creative property were repurposed by white entertainers without their permission. More relative to the South African context, black entertainers were to be nothing more than spectacle as they were denied equal political rights that would afford them an improved quality of life. Both of which contribute to the erasure of black success in high profile spaces. Thandiswa’s commitment to fashion in her performances and how people participate in her aesthetic, make her influence meaningful and necessary.

Solange Knowles, most acclaimed for her third studio album, A Seat At The Table, has enraptured audiences everywhere. The music video for “Don’t Touch My Hair”, which became an anthem for black womxn, features fashion that enriches the the reality of Solange’s artistry. Solange opens the video swinging her elaborately braided and beaded hair, donning a geometrically cut, white, one-piece bathing suit. From that point, Solange is captured dressed in earthtone and white colors. Through fashion and physical theatre, the songstress gives blackness and black womxnhood an air of peace, power, and piety. Her commitment to this aesthetic continues in her live performances of songs from the Grammy award winning album.

During a time when mainstream music stars were wearing straight hair styled alongside highly fitted and structured garments, the “Cranes In The Sky” singer wore her hair in traditionally black styles and donned garments that made her look like a high priestess. Her wide legged pants, flowing silk and chiffon outfits, and elaborate headpieces on top of braids and beads, have made Solange a walking performance art piece. In this way, audiences can tap into her message through sourcing fashion pieces that suit the aesthetic.

Therefore, fashion is a medium through which performers can connect with their audiences. Symbolism is stitched into every garment; and even in the absence of clothing, there is significance. Fashion in music becomes cemented in pop culture; which solidifies the ideology associated with an aesthetic further into society’s collective consciousness.