Last Saturday, the Africa Alliance Fashion Show made its comeback to campus in its first show since the pandemic’s onset. Representing a wide range of African nations, members of the club provided and modeled traditional clothing that represented their respective home countries.
Like other traditions being reintroduced into campus life, increasing awareness of the event’s legacy presented challenges for the club. For Treasurer Heldana Daniel ’23, who also modeled in the show, seeing the fashion show as a prospective student added incentive to commit to Bowdoin.
“Watching [the show], I was like, ‘I really want to come to this school, be part of this club and be part of the fashion show when I can,’” Daniel said. “So that was a cool full circle moment to be in it and help plan it.”
However, this fashion show was quite different from Daniel’s original experience.
“When I [first] saw it, the whole Kresge auditorium was packed,” Daniel said. “I remember I was sitting at the edge of the steps because [so] many people came. I think socially, it was recognized as a big event … I think the dynamics, by nature of [Covid-19], changed the way that people attend events.”
As seniors on the board, Vice President Afiah Somiah ’22 and President Ayub Tahlil ’22 were the only people who could remember the fashion show before the Covid-19 pandemic. Somiah and Tahlil saw their opportunity to further enrich the event, this time including trivia and poetry readings for each country.
Somiah was also responsible for organizing traditional music submitted by models.
“I asked people to send me their favorite songs from their country, and I essentially just put together a mix of snippets from each of those songs,” Somiah said. “My big thing during the actual event was making sure that everyone’s music was synced and timed.”
Providing a community space for cultural appreciation is what makes the fashion show so important to Africa Alliance members.
“A lot of our students are international students, and it definitely is hard to have a feel for home when you’re in Maine,” Somiah said. “Having this community is a safe space for a lot of our students”
“Seeing everyone in their traditional clothing and just standing together and chatting together—it felt heartwarming [and]comforting.” Somiah added. “I was like, ‘I love my African community.’ They make me feel like I’m wanted. They make me feel like I’m with people who understand my culture.”
As the future vice president, Daniel wants to build on this sense of place. Her goals for next year include bridging the gap between upperclassmen who have more knowledge about campus traditions and the underclassmen who know less.
Daniel also hopes to provide a space where African students can discuss anything from cultural traditions to study abroad experiences.
“We just also want to continue to bring people together and build community,” Daniel said.
Ayub Tahlil ’22 is a member of the Bowdoin Orient.