Africa inspired event held in San Antonio
Prompted by a Facebook post, Selena Mitchell and her mother, Clara, spent Saturday afternoon touring the eclectic ?“lájú African Market Creative Arts Festival. The pair, entered the Brick gallery, at the Blue Star Arts Complex, marveling at the fashions and wares at the cultural-exchange market, designed to entertain and educate guests about the African continent.
Spotlights lit vibrant prints of young African women and men in pensive poses. Racks, filled with an array of clothes, lined the space beneath pink chandeliers, The two guests browsed through gowns behind twin mannequins clad in rose gold metallic corsets and arm bands.
Their ties to Africa inspired the pair to attend the event. Selena Mitchell, 25, had studied college classes in Ghana; her mother, Clara, 58, had done missionary work in Botswana and South Africa.
“I didn’t know that San Antonio had African events,” Selena Mitchell said. “For that reason, this spoke to me.”
The market was one of more than 170 events of DreamWeek, a 16-day summit that advances the teachings of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., in and around downtown. The festival, sponsored by the ?“lájú Art Group, featured music, vendors, contemporary art, fashion and food.
?“lájú is a Yoruba word from West Africa that translates to “one who is enlightened.”
The featured exhibition, “Process and Patterns,” showcased a collection of works by batik artist Tunde Odunlade. Batik, a technique practiced for centuries, involves blocking out areas of cloth with hot wax and dying the cloth.
Sandi Smith visited all of the vendors, buying scented chakra scrubs, earrings and spices. She said the cultural arts aspect drew her to the festival.
“Because I’m a creative person, I really appreciate how much work goes into making something and the labor of it,” Smith, 63, said. “I really like to see stuff like that.”
Before guests arrived, the event’s featured artist, Paakow Essandoh, founder and CEO of MIZIZI arranged jerseys with titles such as “Black Lives Matter,” and “Wakanda,” the fictional land of Black Panther of Marvel cinematic and comic fame.
MIZIZI means roots in Swahili. The clothing line includes a jersey, which range from $30 to $80, for each African country.
“We are the way that people express their cultural identity through African street wear,” Essandoh, 23, said. “The fact that we have a good product that is able to evoke emotions out of people and make them proud of where they are from is a good feeling.”
Obafemi Ogunleye founded the art group in 2015 after he observed a lack of appreciation and recognition for contemporary art from West Africa, especially Nigeria. Ogunleye, a first generation Nigerian-American, said the festival promoted cultural education of West Africa and the work of emerging artists.
Born in Houston, he lived and worked in Nigeria for two years to understand his heritage.
“The main thing is opening our eyes to engaging with arts in different ways and arts that we are not used to seeing,” Ogunleye, 29, said.
Unyime Udosen and her husband, Akan, own U4U Designs in Austin that features clothing made in Nigeria from her designs. She shared information with guests about her garb including head wraps, hand bags and the Apuk, a short gown for women.
“When people hear about Africa they hear about the poor,” she said. “I’m about empowering and educating. All of the women I work with are masters in their fields.”
Her husband, Akan, 49, said the festival was an opportunity to share facts about their homeland.
“Years ago, people’s impression of Africa was things like Tarzan,” he said, “and they didn’t know there were 50 countries in the continent. It’s always good to introduce Africa in a different light.”
Vincent T. Davis is a reporter in the Greater San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @vincentdavis