Industrie Africa and Afrobubblegum: The creatives re-framing Africa's cultural narrative

 Image courtesy of Lisa Folawiyo, Industrie Africa

Image courtesy of Lisa Folawiyo, Industrie Africa

A positive creative energy is spreading across the African subcontinent. Burgeoning initiatives and collectives are celebrating the bright, joyful creativity that the region’s numerous countries and cultures offer. Two noteworthy creative platforms that are part of this movement are Industrie Africa and Afrobubblegum.

Industrie Africa, which describes itself as ‘the continent’s first digital showroom,’ showcases African fashion designers, celebrating not only the eclectic and exciting nature of African fashion, but the industry behind it.

‘As the definitive guide to industry talent and designer discovery, the platform provides media, buyers, customers and other insiders access to a comprehensive profile of Africa’s contemporary fashion landscape,’ the site says.

'Industrie Africa empowers a network of regional talent to become more influential players in the global narrative, positioning the continent as a leading, connected fashion frontier.’

The platform demonstrates that it’s possible to celebrate the Pan-African movement without reinforcing perceptions of Africa as a singular entity. Founded by American cultural commentator Georgia Bobley and Tanzanian-born fashion marketer Nisha Kanabar, the site speaks of its intentions to create an internal infrastructure for African designers, with the aim of ‘making Africa bigger, and a more seamless part of the overall fashion narrative.’

But the platform also looks to champion distinct regional identities. Featured menswear brand Kidd Hunta creates tailoring inspired by entrepreneurial youth in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, while designer Katungulu Mwendwa looks to the craftsmanship of Kenyan villages for inspiration. With intimate and engaging stories, the site’s fresh, vibrant and varied designs have got the global fashion elite talking. 

Meanwhile Afrobubblegum is a Kenya-based art collective championing a ‘fun, fierce and frivolous representation of Africa’. Creators include storytellers, graphic designers, fashion designers and musicians, and the collective’s output is highly fictional and fantastical.

But more than anything, it’s fun. It shows Africans happily and healthily living life to the full. This is in contrast to what Afrobubblegum founder Wanuri Kahiu calls African ‘agenda art’, which is preoccupied with themes like war, famine, radicalisation and female genital mutilation. Kahiu has three ground rules for what constitutes Afrobubblegum art:

  1. Are two or more Africans in this piece healthy?
  2. Are those Africans, the same healthy Africans, financially stable and not in need of saving?
  3. Are they having fun?

These rules are clear indicators of the perceptions that Kahiu and her contemporaries are trying to correct – rather than a recipient of financial aid and pitiful gazes, they are showing a contemporary picture of Africa as an energetic, colourful continent that contributes to global culture in a valid, non-tokenistic way.

 A still from Rafiki, courtesy of Big World Cinema

A still from Rafiki, courtesy of Big World Cinema

And Kahiu is succeeding: her own film, Rafiki (which translates as ‘friend’), will be the first Kenyan film to be entered into the Cannes film festival. But while it's gaining acclaim and creating excitement abroad, the film has been banned in Kenya (where it is filmed and set), for content depicting lesbian romance. While there are great strides being made towards adventurous and joyful African creativity, there remain even greater ones to be made towards domestic acceptance.

Platforms like Industrie Africa and Afrobubblegum are helping creatives in Africa to be seen and heard on the global stage. They are challenging stereotypes and giving those aiming to reset the continent’s global image freedom to do so.

Both platforms show creators curating and setting the tone for their work; in these examples, celebrating the fun elements of African culture that have, until recently, rarely been shown.

Sophie Nye and Matt Taylor, Flamingo