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IAMISIGO’s AW20 collection,
Creative Direction: Bubu Ogisi,
Photography: Maganga Mwagogo

The Colonial Heritage of Italian and International Fashion Design and Its Impact on the Collective Imagination

B&W-Black&White is Cultural Partner and Media Partner of "Decolonizing the Gaze" a participatory and international study conducted by Caterina Pecchioli which combines aesthetics, history and activism. The study, which involves Afro-descendant stylists, artists, and fashion designers of colonial heritage, intends to identify new meanings about widespread colonial dressing practices and body policies and the effects of colonialism on the individual/collective imagination and design practices. 


2022- 2023 (ongoing)

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The project, supported by the Italian Council (11th edition, 2022) proposes a visual and historical analysis of objects of clothing, fabrics and accessories from the Italian and Dutch former colonies and preserved in the collections of the Former Colonial Museum of Rome and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Those Museums were created especially with the intention to propagate the colonial policy and today they are working to rethink and display their collections from a decolonial perspective.

The complex relationship between de-colonialism, heritage, cultural globalization, and “Made in Italy” is being tackled through a year long program of workshops and seminars with the collaboration of institutions engaged on the subject in Italy, Holland, Ethiopia, South Africa, and the USA.

An in-depth study that aims to bring the Italian decolonial perspective within a live European debate on the decolonization of fashion and culture and on the political uses of fashion and clothing.

Phase 1 - Former Colonial Museum, Museum of Civilizations, Rome

In the first phase, the research focused on the objects of the section of the "Samples Exhibition" of the Ex Colonial Museum of Rome, kept in archives made accessible only from 2020 onwards at the Museum of Civilizations at EUR. Items made in between Italy and Africa to be sold at national and international colonial fairs, these objects hide forms of colonial exploitation and commercial propaganda.

Caterina Pecchioli together with African fashion designers active in Italy and part of the B&W community, Semhal Tsegaye AbebeNosakhare Ekhator and Victor Abbey-Hart,  they visited the collection of the former Colonial Museum, and conducted a participatory workshop concentrated on the observation and study of clothing and accessories of the collection. The visual, historical and cultural traces that influenced the design of these objects were investigated, delving into the impact of colonial thought on the aesthetics of objects and the system of social and visual meanings conveyed by them. At the same time, an exchange took place on the design choices of the stylists involved, which propose models capable of de-construct the Eurocentric vision and the unique narrative.

The workshop was followed by a TALK open to the public where the designers talked about the aspects of personal, visual, artisanal, cultural and aesthetic history triggered by the impact with this complex tangible material.

Alessandra Vaccari, researcher and teacher of fashion history and theory at the Iuav in Venice, she finally introduced a historical perspective on clothing practices and body politics during the 20's in Italy and explored colonial imaginaries in the perspective of Italian fashion.

The questions opened by this comparison were in particular:

What are the actions today to reappropriate and enhance the richness of the cultures of origin? How can we extrapolate from these objects of colonial exploitation and commercial propaganda new meanings aimed at recoding the colonial past and its connection with the contemporary, proposing models capable of deconstructing the Eurocentric vision and the single narrative? How do African and Afro-descendant designers work with the syncretic presence of different heritages and what is the political use of fashion and clothing as tools for multiple and national identity claims?

In this phase also took part, and we thank for their collaboration:

Andrea Viliani (Museum of Civilizations), Rossana di Lella (Museum of Civilizations), Matteo Lucchetti (Museum of Civilizations), Gaia Delpino (Museum of Civilizations), Enrica Picarelli (Afrosartorialism), Victoria Rodriguez Schon (Polytechnic University of Milan), Anna Maria Gehnei. 

Fase 2 - Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam - Thami Mnyele Foundation Studio - Framer Framed - CBK Zuidoost - Tilburg Textilemuseum


The second part of the research took place in The Netherlands and focused on  what the different fabrics and their story they tell about interculture, colonialism and cultural appropriation.

WORKSHOP at Thami Mnyele Foundation Studio

As in Italy, also in Amsterdam, took place a participatory laboratory organized in collaboration with the network of the Thami Mnyele Foundation, together with CBK Zuidoost and Framer Framed, which involved African and Afro-descendant stylists, artists, and fashion designers with origins from countries with a history of Dutch colonization and mixed origins from: Cote D'Ivoire, Curasao, Suriname, Sud Africa, Senegal, England, Mozambique and The Netherlands. The exchange focused on fabrics linked to the personal history of the participants and objects from the Dutch colonies, present in the Tropenmuseum's collection. The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, born with the same propaganda purposes as the Colonial Museum of Rome, in the "What's the Story" section problematizes fashion itself, through clothing objects and fabrics, emphasizing the complexity of defining something transitory, such as the trend and the static idea of traditional dress. The workshop was led by Caterina Pecchioli at the Thami Mnyele Foundation Studio who invited the participants to bring a fabric or garment that were significant to their personal history. The exchange took place starting from these fabrics linked to personal stories, the testimonies, collected in a series of interviews, are capable of highlighting the complex interconnection between the different countries of origin and how personal history is intertwined with the colonial one, and affects the construction of collective imaginaries.

Partistipants: Linnemore Nefdt, Carine Mansan Chowanek, Sharelly Emanuelson, Nathalie Ho Kang You, Rhoda Woets, Christine Delha, Noémi Beyer, Siobhan Wall, Zinzi de Brouwer,Moustapha Sylla,

ROUND TABLE - Decolonizing the Gaze: Textile Cultural Heritage vs Colonialism - Cultural Appropriations?to Framer Framed

An open debate about what different fabrics and their history tell about interculture, colonialism, and cultural appropriations.

Fashion designers and creative directors Semhal Tsegaye Abebe (Almaz Textile Design)Bubu Ogisi (Iamisigo), and Zinzi de Brouwer (Studio Palha) highlighted initiatives and design projects that reveal the richness of African textile heritage still little known in Europe today, and their connection with sustainability; drawing attention on non-Eurocentric craft and fashion scenarios. Together with fashion designer and creative director Zinzi de Brouwer and publisher and designer Willem van Zoetendaal, the roundtable also offered insight into the Dutch Wax fabrics and the implications of its designs and messages produced in Holland and sold in Africa – and its complex and controversial identity representation. These fabrics, often used in the collections of African and Afro-descendant designers, present images and messages that are like archives of meanings that tell of an ambiguous relationship linked to the European colonial period.

Some of the topics brought to the discussion emerged from the previous participatory workshop, interviews collected on these issues by Caterina Pecchioli and Roxane Mbanga between Amsterdam and Paris, and from the study on the colonial aspects linked to the history of fabric conducted by Caterina Pecchioli at the Tilburg Textile Museum, the largest bookstore specialized on textile in the Netherlands.

Decolonizing the Gaze program


Project supported by the Italian Council (11th edition, 2022), the program aims at supporting Italian contemporary art in the world and is promoted by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity within the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Project and concept: Caterina Pecchioli

Scientific Consultant: Enrica Picarelli

With the participation of:

Semhal Tsegaye Victor Abbey-hart, Delvin Nosakhare Ekhator, Alessandra Vaccari, Zinzi de Brouwer, Bubu Ogisthe, Moustapha Sylla, Willem van Zoetendaal, Roxane Mbanga, Linnemore Nefdt, Carine Mansan Chowanek, Sharelly Emanuelson, Nathalie Ho Kang You, Rhoda Woets, Christine Delha, Noémi Beyer, Siobhan Wall.

Cultural Partners:

Africa and Mediterranean MagazineAfrosartorialism, B&W - Black&White, The Migrant Trend APS, CBK Zuidoost, Framer Framed, Georgetown Humanities Initiative, Italian Cultural Institute of Addis Ababa, Moleskine Foundation, Museum of Civilizations, Nation25, Polytechnic of Milan, Thami Mnyele Foundation, Iuav University of Venice, University Eastern of Naples.

Thanks to:

Andrea Viliani (Museum of Civilizations), Rossana Di Lella (Museum of Civilizations), Matteo Lucchetti (Museum of Civilizations), Gaia Delpino (Museum of Civilizations), Pauline Burmaan (Thami Mnyele Foundation), Linnemore Nefdt (Thami Mnyele Foundation), Lydia Markaki (Frame Framed), Annet Zondervan (CBK Zuidoost), Judith Van Der Kooij (Thami Mnyele Foundation), Januten van Elk (Tilburg Textielmuseum), Victoria Rodriguez Schon (Polytechnic of Milan), Tania Gianesin (Moleskine Foundation, Adama Sanneh (Moleskine Foundation), Christiaan Bastiaans, Semen Kumurzhi (IIC Addis Ababa), Nicoletta Pireddu (Georgetown University), Daan van Dartel (Tropenmuseum), Kwanza Musi Dos Santos (Questa è Roma).


Photos and filming: Morteza Khaleghi, Sonia Lima Morais, Luca De Benedetti, Caterina Pecchioli, Alessandro Trevisin.

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