Creative Economy Week Zimbabwe - I Wear My Culture: A Review

Who are you? A question that has a thousand possible answers. Yet for most of the strangers we meet, this isn't a question we voice out loud. Instead we often just let a person's clothes introduce them to us, and for that short moment, we fully take them in. A suit makes you think "that's a formally employed man", a high-end designer t-shirt and sweatpants make you think "that's a dealer" (known colloquially as boys retonaz), and anything semi-formal with a hanging name tag like an FBI agent screams "that's someone who works at Zimworx".

So fashion is a language that has fabric as its alphabet. It is also an expression of our culture. Not only as a matter of tribe but even corporate culture. But to go back to where I started, I would say "I Wear My Culture" is a documentary and project, that answers the question "Who are you?"

If you look at the bigger picture, there hasn't been a better time to answer this question than now. The government not too long ago launched the national fabric, which although it was a valiant effort didn't hit the spot. In fact, it seemed to water down our national identity to just the ancient empire of Great Zimbabwe, with the Great Zimbabwe bird being the focal point. Although this was a great moment in time for some of our ancestors, you just feel it's not what truly showcases us. It was a moment and not quite the essence of who we are as a nation in the present.

Now not to forget the British Council's platform "Creative Economy Week Zimbabwe", which gave us this opportunity to indulge in discussions of our heritage but "I Wear My Culture" was far more absorbing than I had expected. Day 3 of Creative Economy Week Zimbabwe was an immersion in Zimbabwean identity through the lens of fashion. At a time when the nature of our traditional outfits (especially at our now reimagined traditional marriage proceedings) is being questioned, "I Wear My Culture" might just provide an answer.

Gilmore Tee (I Wear My Culture's Creative Director)
Gilmore Tee

The project provides a platform for much-needed cultural conversations in Zimbabwe. It highlights how the country has 16 official languages (The other 13 are usually ignored) and yet from a fashion perspective, there isn't this representation. "I Wear My Culture" dives into the identity of 10 local tribes and 2 from the UK: Tonga, Nambya, Shona, Xhosa, Shangani, Ndebele, Venda, Kalanga, Khoisan, Sotho, Irish and Scottish.

“We have been working on I Wear My Culture for the past 3 years and are really humbled by what we have discovered across Zimbabwe, especially when it comes to our culture and heritage. In every part we travelled to, we were received with open hands, something that my team and I hold dearly and is an indication on how warm we are as Zimbabweans. We are so rich in our individual tribal groups and all we yearn for is to be seen, heard and celebrated" - Gilmore Tee

Ncominkosi Sibanda, Charmaine Nziradzemhuka, Nakai Kazhanje, Yolanda Ngwenya, Margaret Mathambo, Nkululeko Ncube, Fungai Muzoroza, Shinga Madzima, Noliwe Mhlope, Tashinga Sambo, Kundai Tamirepi and Casey Stoddart were selected from a large pool of applicants.

The documentary follows the journey of these designers, from the initial workshop they had with uBaba uPathisa Nyathi, to UK heritage designer Dorota Stumpf, to their views on their assigned tribal group, going into rural communities of the groups to do research, interpreting their findings through garment construction and then the final product, which is two garments from each tribal group.

Fungai Muzoroza designs at Creative Economy Week Zimbabwe
The design Fungai Muzoroza came up with for the garments for the Ndebele tribe

Fungai Muzoroza came up with an amazing concept for the Ndebele tribe, that incorporated burnt plastic in creating corsets. I Wear My Culture is not only a dive into the past but an appreciation of the present, with sustainability being infused into the creation of clothes that showcase our heritage.

Another personal favourite from the garments the 12 designers came up with was what Charmaine Nziradzemhuka came up with for the Nambya tribe. She incorporated the rees weaving patterns the tribe uses in basket making and also utilized natural dying methods, that changed the colour of her fabrics using Zimbabwean soil.

To attend the I Wear My Culture exhibition was to be immersed in the history of us as a people and our fashion. We indulged first in conversations about making fashion accessible, the power of collaboration through our shared heritage and building an audience for African culture across the globe.

Again in regards to the Creative Economy Week Zimbabwe as a concept, Day 3 was a home run straight out of the park. It was well-curated and paced. What began with an indaba was followed by a fashion runway that displayed the pieces created by the designers who participated in the project. There was a certain immersion in the story the garments told that came from seeing them live and the performances we witnessed from one particular model on a pedestal in the middle of the showcase, were further enchanting.

Food was perfectly timed just after this and then we got a full screening of Gilmore Tee's 65-minute documentary "I Wear My Culture". If I would have one complaint it would be about the food. As my ancestors said, "Hukama igasva hunozadzikiswa nekudya". Relations are strengthened by breaking bread together (More samoosas and meatballs please! I won't mention who but the celebrity next to me would agree, It was **** ********).

However, I'm further intrigued at what more we could discover if we embraced everything about who we are. "I Wear My Culture" makes me feel like a heritage lost can be found again. We can once again speak with our different voices through fashion, without forgetting the ties that bind us.

"I Wear My Culture" has been showcased at the Moscow Fashion Film Festival, and Melbourne Fashion Festival and it won the Oustanding TV Production at the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards among its many achievements.

Creative Economy Week Zimbabwe comes as part of the British Council’s ongoing efforts to promote and support the creative industries in Africa, underscoring their importance as key drivers for sustainable, dynamic and inclusive growth. If the "I Wear My Culture" showcase is anything to go by, then this week has been a resounding success for Zimbabwean creatives.

Greedysouth rating: 8/10

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