There are a few ways to tell an African story and Nigerian designer Patience Torlowei chose to say it with fabric and paint.
Torlowei’s story, named Esther, is in fact a flowing gown in raw silk, chronicling, in acrylic, the real issues of Africa, from the militancy crisis in the Niger-Delta region to the rebel concerns in Central and Eastern Africa.
The artist, who seeks to use her work as a medium to tell stories, also conveys the environmental catastrophes the continent faces, using the imagery of dead fish in the polluted waters of the Niger-Delta, and mass deforestation, among other pertinent topics.
The dress has obviously made an impact. It made its way from the airport in Lagos to the fashion runways in Washington DC, and finally to a pride of place at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art.
It’s the first piece of African haute couture on permanent exhibition at the museum.
It all started in February when Torlowei was invited as one of nine African designers to present her collection at a fashion show at the Smithsonian.
She had, amongst other creations, also presented her focal piece, Esther.
Following positive feedback for her work, the museum requested to purchase it from her. She instead donated it to them.
Otherwise, Torlowei is the founder of Patience Please, a design label producing quality lingerie. Her first line was launched in 2006 with Patience Torlowei BVBA, a bridal wear company. In two years, the brand supplied wedding and cocktail dresses across six countries in Europe. Torlowei also began to explore the possibilities in her home country Nigeria.
“I came to Nigeria with the heart to transfer the skill of lingerie manufacturing to my people. I have always been of the strong belief that we are fully capable of manufacturing good clothing on a large scale… My dream was to make Nigeria the hub of lingerie manufacturing in Africa.”
Torlowei seeks to use her art to generate awareness about issues threatening the future of her country and the world.
“Through works such as Esther, we aim to encourage conversation on topics that hit close to home, and play our part in promoting positive development,” she says.
And in turn take African culture to the world.