For decades until it closed in 2003, the African Heritage gallery in Nairobi showcased some of the best and most original designs, made from traditional African textiles and materials. Its international tours introduced Africa's unique creativity around the world. Now the founder, Alan Donovan, is pulling out the stops for one more journey into Africa's forgotten but still glorious world of design. Report by Anver Versi.
Some years ago, New African reported on "The Rise and Fall of African Heritage'. This article detailed the fortunes of a famous Kenyan gallery which had closed after a glorious period producing shows highlighting African culture, textiles and fashions through festivals that travelled the world with a troupe of models, musicians, acrobats, stilt walkers, chefs, hairdressers and others.
The last major tour of Kenya's African Heritage Festival was in 1999-2000, when it travelled across Kenya, holding shows at 23 Kenyan hotels and heralding the African Millennium.
Central to the shows, Donovan recalls, "was the double-volume opus, African Ceremonies, by the intrepid photographers Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith, who signed hundreds of their books during the tour." Before that, African Heritage had travelled to South Africa to produce its African Renaissance show for 4,000 guests arriving for the First Telecoms Conference in Africa.
The last European tour by African Heritage, says Donovan, was to 11 cities "with the troupe packed into a luxury bus, followed by a caravan of lorries loaded with plants, lighting and sound equipment, musical instruments, costumes and fashions, and hand-painted murals to transform every venue into 'Kenya' with scenes depicting the Kenyan coast, mountains and game parks. The tour was supported by Lufthansa Airlines and the Hotel Intercontinental."
The tour was so successful and sparked such an interest in African culture and fashion that founder Alan Donovan was invited by the AU to give a lecture on his 'recipe' for the exciting package.
Now, 18 years since the African Millennium Tour, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have produced another double-volume opus, African Twilight, reviewed in the November issue of New African.
This work concentrates on the vanishing African cultures, rituals and traditions not surveyed in their first 16 books. Thus they have done what no photographers can do ever again--as most of these rituals and ceremonies are now extinct or vanishing and the only record of their...