Fashion as Resistance: The Case of Mali

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post discussing the attempt among Muslim leaders in Russia to prove that Russian Muslim women are modern and fashionable, unlike Muslims elsewhere. Soon after, fashion made headlines again, this time in the case of Mali, with Yahoo! News reporting on Darkar Fashion Week 2012.

Design by Alphadi

Design by Alphadi. Image via Mirage A Trois.

The event, which takes place in Senegal, has been attracting designers from all over Africa for the past ten years. The event has been reported to attempt to bring Africa forward in the fashion world, and to counter Western fashion houses stealing African aesthetics and motifs.

Nonetheless, the Yahoo! News article focuses on Malian designers and the fact that fashion seems to be too colorful and perhaps too showy for the Islamists. Mali, a country that is rarely featured in the fashion section of the news, went through a coup d’état earlier this year, and now the northern region is under the control of Ansar Dine, a group commonly identify in the Western media as Islamist rebels, who have also recently attacked Timbuktu.

The article suggests that fashion is too “cool” for these Islamists, as they have taken the conservative approach in endorsing hijab and banning trousers for women. To some degree, the article portrays angry Islamists getting back at fashion designers and perhaps even women. Nonetheless, the issue may be a bit more complex than Yahoo! News analysis. The issue with fashion may be not its colors and uncovered arms, but what it represents. In an interview, designer Sidahmed Seidnaly, aka Alphadi and also known as the Magician of the Desert, expresses his discomfort with the situation in Mali and the push for Shari’ah law in the northern region. Similarly, designer Mariah Bocoum made her five-piece collection to represent the struggle of Malian people and as a way to resist the restrictions now imposed in Mali’s north. [Read more...]