Africana Style’ now on display at Seacoast African American Cultural Center

The Seacoast African American Cultural Center has planned a color-filled season, chock-full of thought-provoking programs

The Seacoast African American Cultural Center has planned a color-filled season, chock-full of thought-provoking programs and two intriguing exhibits, and it’s starting with a real doozy. 

“Fashion Forward: Africana Style: Connecting Thread Of African Fashion Through Time And Place” will launch SAACC‘s season with all things wearable, in image and artifact.

The exhibit occupies all three floors of the center with each level highlighting a different theme, SAACC President Sandi Clark Kaddy said. And, she adds, it’s unlikely it’s what people expect.

“When people look at African fashion, they often think dashiki, a garment worn in West Africa that covers the top half of the body,” she says. “This is different. And it’s really fabulous.”

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The main floor features the exhibit’s centerpiece, “Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo,” featuring photography by award-winning London-based photographer Tariq Zaidi. 

Zaidi’s images documented the Sapeurs, a fashion-subculture located in an impoverished community of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. The Sapeurs, also known as members of the Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People) consist of working-class individuals, who by night transform into fashion dandies of an earlier age. 

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After a day’s work, these style-makers head home, change and then parade the streets in creative, elegant and often colorful attire, a mix of newly purchased, second-hand, or self-designed and fashioned from cloth or castoffs.

“‘Sapeurs’ is the gem of the show,'” Clark Kaddy says. “The photography is incredible … the outfits are so creative, just wonderful.”

This photo by Tariq Zaidi of Elie Fontaine Nsassoni, a 45-year-old taxi owner and sapeur for 35 years, in Brazzaville, taken in 2017 is part of the exhibit, "Sapeurs: The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo," which will be on display through Sept. 1 at the Seacoast African American Cultural Center in Portsmouth.

Clark Kaddy was directed to Zaidi’s work by a fellow board member familiar with his work. She tracked the artist down through a museum exhibiting his work.

 “It just worked out fabulously,” she says. “It’s just one of those times when you say thank God for the internet.”

Zaidi’s oeuvre features numerous series. But it was his Sapeurs that “blew me away,” she says. “I looked at his images and said, ‘Oh, we have to tell this story.'”