The African continent encompasses a lot of traditions and approaches related to fashion. From patterns to design techniques, traditions in this field have been passed along from generation to generation since the dawn of time. Truly bound to myths, rituals and spirituality, the practice around garments goes hand in hand with a higher expression of ourselves. Based in Lagos, Bubu Ogisi created the perfect contemporary interpretations of such traditions.
More than simple garments, her work is "a road map to the truth.” Searching into spiritual concepts and practices from Yoruba and Edo mythology, Lands of Gods is a collection that aims to connect us to the spirit world, the intangible forces in our existence. Our body is placed as the site in which the rituals occur. In Lands of Gods, designer Ogisi “is linking [her] craft experiences to the meaning of ceremonial dressmaking as a gesture of prayer, a vehicle of communication with the higher world.” Additionally to her emphasis on craftsmanship, in order to find the right balance between machinery and humans, the label also reuses materials and fabrics - as in prior collections. This recycled and sustainable aspect is a priority at IAMISIGO. The creative director herself is truly attached to this commitment. Bubu Ogisi collaborated with Lagos based brand Kkerelé for the footwear of her SS21 collection. This association was obvious for creative Ogisi since Kkerelé was the only label she valued as able to create designs “to step from the visible world into the spirit world.”
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It is a real pleasure to have the chance to interview you. As some of our readers may not know you, could you introduce yourself and your label?
My name is Bubu Ogisi and I am the Creative director for IAMISIGO - a fashion label using African crafts and traditions.
You describe your work as “wearable art.” Is it mainly because it is handcrafted or are there other or additional explanations to this statement?
Our pieces are handcrafted as well as experimental. We create pieces that are detailed and take time to create using unconventional materials and ancient techniques, so as a result they are made to represent a specific frame of mind that wants to appear as an art piece. The body is the ultimate canvas so for us, everything we create has to exude that.
Your label is well-known for collaborating with small artisanal communities across the African continent. Why is it important for you to explore handcraft techniques that already coexisted there?
The main idea behind this is preservation. We find ourselves in general as humans, mesmerised and fantasied by the idea of self-operating machinery while forgetting the importance of the works of our hands. By working with different ancient artisanal communities we can preserve not only the crafts but also the stories that have been created alongside the craft while introducing these artisans to new ideas that enable them to coexist in the fast-paced world of fashion with new eco-innovative ideas that are able to sustain the artisans and their communities. The key is to find the balance between machinery and the human.
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Your Spring/Summer 2021 collection named Land of Gods is inspired by Yoruba and Edo mythology. What made you delve into these specific traditions? And how did you translate it through your garments?
My work or collections are a storybook, a journal, a physical document or report on my personal findings. Everything is connected - the idea is to find those connections or connect the dots one at a time. A road map to the truth. I myself am a descendant of the Edo and Yoruba tribe, with my surname meaning Sky-King which I then reversed for the brand name, I was seeking to understand not only myself but my ancestors and also human individuality.
With my past SS20 collection, I was examining the divine feminine but I realised I had to go further into the dynamics of one's self through the understanding of both the spirit and visible world, which is why we called this current SS21 collection Land of Gods - as I believe we each have an inner element of the supreme energy that exists in all of us. Therefore with these collections, as with all others, the idea of garment creation through time via meditation was important for me during the process of its creation.
The self participates in everyday life in Agbon (the visible world) and in Erinmwin (the spirit world also known as the world of the ancestors) which is home to one spiritual guardian (Ehi). Power resides in one's head (Uhunmwun) and in one’s Ehi with whom the head cooperates. One head can either curse or bless one’s actions. Our Ehi is like the clothes we wear. All of you is a ritual space, your body is a temple. Your body becomes a spiritual landscape, that is the energy field, designed, constantly reworked and reactivated. You design what you wear.
We translated this through the choice of colours, patterns, cuts and fabrics. Highlighting one important symbol in Edo which is Igha-ede (that divides the day) in our beading patterns mirroring a simple cross design with circles. [It can be] translated into many ways such as the transmission of messages to and from the spirit world as well as the division of earthly and spiritual realms. Like the borders in the land, nature was articulated angularly. Seen and unseen, opportunity and threat, dry and wet, day and night, back and forth, warp and weft. The spirits see all sides of a person.
This collection is aimed to examine and understand individuals beyond being human beings. The main idea is to elevate us to divinity and connect the visible world (Agbon) to the spirit world (Erinmwin). You are also involving the notion of Ehi that refers to spiritual guardians that cooperate with one’s head. In this vision, what is the role of clothes?
Cloth is the important indication of numinous presence in the worship of the moral inquisitors. This collection honours the age-old tradition of the making of the “Adaigho” the spiritual garment worn by high priests and priestess. In every pattern of this collection, a message is conveyed, linking our craft experiences to the meaning of ceremonial dressmaking as a gesture of prayer, a vehicle of communication with the spirit world. These pieces are terrains of soul, never finished, a language for the body beyond conscious understanding, like a mnemonic device that reminds you of what we’ve always known.
While explaining the collection you state: “All of you is a ritual space, your body is a temple. Your body becomes a spiritual landscape, that is the energy field, designed, constantly reworked and reactivated. You design what you wear.” Do you think dressing is part of a larger world related to rituals? And what is your contribution or role within this space of rituals?
Yes, ultimately. My contribution is IAMISIGO, a brand that seeks to preserve the ritual of storytelling of the past through fibre and textile art.
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For this collection, you’ve also collaborated with artisans from Lagos, Edo or even Kano. For instance, the shoes are made by the Nigerian label Kkerele. How do you find these collaborators? And what it brings to your own practice to team up with them?
Kkerele is a brand I truly admire but more importantly and also intentionally is it a creative director is from Osun state. Osun meaning the goddess of love, water and fertility. I felt she was the best person to collaborate with especially with something as deep as creating footwear to step from the visible world into the spirit world.
Your pieces have been made with recycled polyester ruffles. Over the African continent, we can notice that a lot of practices are traditionally truly sustainable. However, the Western world has used landfill from various African countries to dump their waste. By reusing materials and fabrics, is the goal to celebrate sustainable traditional practices as a way to face environmental damages provoked by the Global North industry?
For us at IAMISIGO - and for me personally - we have been using recycled clothing straight from the start for our samples by deconstructing and reconstructing. As a child, I was always obsessed with vintage markets and recycling but most importantly the spirits that are left behind in pieces that are neglected. They say one man's trash is another man's treasure. I always wondered how someone could let go of such amazing pieces of items, but I guess that boils down to there being an excessive amount of production.
We know that the Western world has largely underestimated the fashion industry in Africa overall, while a lot of trends are from traditional African craftsmanship. Your label is from the continent and its aim isn’t necessarily to represent the Western market. Through your collections, you are celebrating a lot of traditions coming from various parts of the continent. Why is it important for you to connect your audience to this ancestral knowledge?
A lot of the things we learn in the present day via education or through the media have a way of overshadowing the truth. I guess the only true way to convey the truth would be through garments and fibres. A lot of brands are seeking to please and represent the West or an idea of what the West requires them to be. I just choose to be borderless with my creativity. Once upon a time, we didn’t need visas to travel the world I guess that’s what my brand is trying to take us back to, by being undefined, raw and boundless.
Although the practice of fashion design is very ancient across the African continent, today we can notice a new era of designers coming from different countries such as Ghana, Nigeria or Kenya. The creative scene has truly transformed these past few years and it gives a lot of possibilities for the natives. How do you think this industry is going to evolve in the upcoming years? And what are your hopes for the future of this field within the continent?
I hope that we continue to evolve individually and originally, by making discoveries and continuously experimenting like our ancestors did while being mindful of our environment and people. My hope is we look inwards and stop seeking validation because if we rewind to 400 years ago no one was seeking validation or copying and pasting. Everyone was just being innovative irrespective of who knew or who didn’t.I see the industry growing and becoming more artisanal and handmade inclined by focusing on evolving ancestral techniques while incorporating waste, showing the importance of preserving handmade processes and up-cycling to fight against the climate crisis.
A creative world is a free world.
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