The Journey of "African" Prints feat. Yinka Shonibare, MBE

Yinka Shonibare, MBE is a London-born Nigerian artist who grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and has studied and lived in London. He is a globally accomplished artist who has created and exhibited his artwork in various forms including drawing, painting, sculpture, costumes, photography, film, and performance. While Yinka uses various media, he is most known for his use of "African" prints in his work. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal featuring Yinka, he began using "African" prints in art school when "[c]hallenged by a teacher to produce a so-called 'authentic African artwork.'" As he sought "African" prints that he thought were authentic, Yinka discovered that they were not originally from Africa.

Scramble for Africa. Source: Yinka Shonibare's website.

Scramble for Africa. Source: Yinka Shonibare's website.

African prints have been made available in Africa, particularly in the West African region, by a Dutch company, Vlisco established in 1846. As fashion journalist Robb Young describes in his article in The New York Times, '[i]t was through a series of historic quirks and intrepid entrepreneurship that Vlisco eventually emerged as the dominant player among several 19th-century Dutch, British and French companies vying for a slice of the lucrative trade — first in genuine, and later in reproductions — of wax-printed batiks from what was then called the Dutch East Indies and today is Indonesia." Vlisco's initial intension was to sell their own version of wax prints (Dutch Wax), more affordable ones with automated dying processes, to the East Indies. However the new products were not appreciated in the East Indies market so Vlisco changed its strategy to sell them in West African market instead as explained in Slate's article.

Since then, Vlisco has successfully sold Dutch Wax by localizing designs and optimizing distributions with the help of local women traders in the region. Vibrant colors are favored by Africans, and today many of them consider Dutch Wax as part of their African culture.

Yinka acknowledges the roots of African prints, yet he decided to use them as unique tools to show his perspectives on sensitive subjects like colonialism, class, and race in the African context. He refers to Vlisco as "cross-bred" according to The New York Times article.

What we like about Yinka's approach is that his unique visual presentation is forward-looking and something that opens up a positive dialogue even when some of his artwork like Scramble for Africa shown in the photo above deals with a historical event. While we can follow the history, we cannot change the history. At Maki & Mpho, our mission is to create original African prints for a wider audience, and we believe in creating the future with a new type of African prints as an alternative to the prevailing "African" wax prints. This doesn't mean to replace the existing ones, but we hope to diversify and expand the world of African prints.

Join us for the journey!