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Pan-African Fashion Show to celebrate African dress, encourage cross-cultural dialogue

March 31, 2017

In hopes of celebrating and sharing the cultures of African students on campus, Bowdoin Africa Alliance is hosting a Pan-African Fashion Show representing 18 countries tomorrow night. In addition to displaying the traditional clothing of students’ respective African heritage, the show will include performances such as a dance, song and slam poetry.

Elizabeth Takyi ’17, who was born and raised in Ghana, will be the emcee for the show. She decided to organize the event with Bowdoin Africa Alliance in order to create a space for students from Africa to feel a stronger African presence on campus and distinguish themselves from the African American Society. Tomorrow evening’s show will feature both male and female models. Bowdoin hasn’t seen a Pan-African fashion show since 2015, when Africa Alliance hosted a similar show.

“This all started because we all felt like we had our own communities within the larger campus but we wanted to break it down further and truly find more of ourselves,” said Takyi. “It wasn’t just about being a black student, or a Bowdoin student. I’m also Ghanaian while being the rest of my identities. So we were like, ‘Okay let’s make it known. Let’s make it lively. Let’s make it positive.’”

According to Takyi, people often associate Africa with negative stereotypes, such as starvation or corrupt governments, and miss the rich aspects of African culture that deserve to be acknowledged and enjoyed. By being open minded toward other cultural backgrounds displayed in the show, Takyi hopes people will be able to see beyond negative images of Africa and learn more about other countries and students at Bowdoin.

“My personal reward is getting to experience different cultures through the friends around me,” said Takyi. “This [show] makes it a lot easier. This creates the space for more cultural exchange within ourselves. Although it may be completely brand new or familiar, we are still celebrating it and we’re not casting any one country out. We are celebrating it all at once.”

As a student at a predominantly white college, Takyi said that her identity as a Ghanaian is rarely shared.

“You don’t see a lot of students wearing their traditional African clothes or speaking in their native language or listening to African music, and for me that’s only visible for me in my own personal space,” said Takyi.

Anu Asaolu ’19, a leader of Bowdoin Africa Alliance and originally from Nigeria, echoed this point and is excited for the fashion show to serve as a means to bring these cultures and identities into view.

“A lot of people have a passion for their countries, but it’s not always talked about, especially on Bowdoin’s campus,” said Asaolu. “People’s African identities are a huge part of their [entire] identities, and to really celebrate that beyond a small club meeting is really nice.”

Asaolu saw the fashion show online when she first learned about the College, and it influenced her decision to come to Bowdoin.

“There was some hope after seeing [the fashion show]. This is the first year that we’re doing it since I’ve been at Bowdoin. It’s been a whole journey of me realizing what I want out of my Bowdoin experience. Walking, modeling or something of that nature is a big final reveal or step towards confidence and gaining that on Bowdoin’s campus.”

The members of Bowdoin Africa Alliance hope that those who attend the show will have fun, enjoy the different cultures in the moment and get excited about the interactions that will happen following the event. The organizers also hope that students will listen to the untold narratives and try and connect with performers after the show.

“If you saw that your roommate wore that outfit and represented Kenya, post show, go to them. Ask them about their Kenyan experience, because that’s how you celebrate [differences],” said Takyi. “We are more than just the ratio that we check … It is about the different cultures, the different languages, the different foods, the different clothes that make us who we are and how we are.”

Asaolu added that all members of campus are welcome at Bowdoin Africa Alliance meetings on Saturday evenings at Thorne to further converse with their peers.

“You don’t have to be African to come to Africa Alliance meetings,” said Asaolu. “You can be of any race and any ethnicity. Most of our meetings are just hanging out. We’ll talk about important issues but in the context of our lives.”

The Pan-African Fashion Show will take place tomorrow in Kresge Auditorium at 8 p.m.

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