By Erica de Greef, October 2022
Exactly ten years after the first Non-Western Fashion Conference held in Rabat, Morocco in October 2012, that organically initiated what is now the Research Collective, we experiment with the first Global Fashioning Assembly 2022 (GFA22) as our own decolonial response to the academic conference. Over the last decade, it has become clear to many of us working in academia, how patterns of exclusion are perpetuated within the academic format of a conference – from who gets to access the calls for participation, to whose abstracts make the peer reviewing selection, to who gets to travel and who gets to write and speak, in which discipline or language or format knowledge is legitimised, etc. When the form – in this case, an academic conference – remains the same, the epistemic violence perseveres.
For the Collective, it became evident that we needed to radically change its manifestation – from the way it is conceptualised through to the production and final outcomes. The steps to choose for a grassroots-to-global assembly of local fashioning coalitions to host knowledge creation and exchange that supports decolonial thinking and doing was born out of sharing dialogues, of listening and unlearning-to-relearn that has shaped the development of the RCDF over the last ten years. It was inspired by around-the-world assemblies that believe ‘we cannot solve our crises using the same way of thinking that created them.’ That argue that true systemic changes are needed, which can only be initiated through deep democratic spaces where communities can explore in their own ways, on their own terms, how to collectively create shared pathways to politics of wholeness.
To overcome the injustices of coloniality/modernity and to honour the many relations developed over the last decade, it was necessary for the RCDF to attend to the seeds of the change already visible. Initiating a coalitional approach of knowledge creation and sharing that is decentred, the Global Fashioning Assembly (GFA) has been envisaged as the possibility to resist the singularity of the eurocentric fashion canon; to refuse to teach, speak, support the dominant narrative; and to regenerate diversity and cultural complexity.
The last two years of the monthly online Conversations on Decoloniality & Fashion have shown us how the digital format disrupts many kinds of barriers to entry by facilitating participation in sharing and decentring knowledge spaces through, to some degree, equal digital access. More diverse voices, in more diverse languages, and offering more diverse contributions are afforded opportunities that distance and economics had previously disavowed. The digital form also pushes all of us to acknowledge different time zones, disrupting the hegemony and ego-centricity of ‘own’ time.
So, with a fairly clear purpose and our guiding principles, the Global Fashioning Assembly began as a collective project sharing common ideals. Through invitations and monthly dialogues that started in September 2021, the GFA22 began taking shape by bringing together the growing number of collectives and nodes of critical fashion thinking sharing common threads. With a focus on decolonising curricula, museum collections or social media, or research and support for local re-existence projects, and a shared interest in connecting local narratives within global discourse, twelve coalitions began to coalesce.
Each coalition has been determining their own format, their own programming, communications and public participation; in other words, each participation is about self-governance, self-representation and self-determination. We have been experimenting with how hosts can become guests, and guests can become hosts, and how local audiences and communities can be connected globally while remaining local.
With this shared vision of co-creation, and co-evolution, and a shared sense of responsibility, it has been difficult to apply for funding (whose own formats still need decolonising), as many variables continued to be negotiated throughout the development of the Assembly. In the interim, individual members from the coalitions have been volunteering and contributing towards writing funding proposals, creating the website and social media platforms, and working out a timetable that would accommodate all the coalitions. Rather than thinking in terms of the West and the Rest, the Global North and Global South, the Assembly has been thinking in terms of time zones, following the sun on its course around the world.
Funding support from the Stimuleringsfonds in the Netherlands was welcome news in July 2022, followed by numerous smaller supports from local organisations in various countries, and has been allowing us to financially support each of the coalitions towards developing materials, securing venues and other content needs. Slowly, the first Global Fashioning Assembly has been taking shape with a 36-hour programme over three days across 14 countries, scheduled for 21-23 October 2022, exactly ten years after RCDF’s first academic conference.
Friday 21 October 2022 begins with five local fashioning coalitions from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South-Africa and Kenya, sharing ways of learning, knowing and doing through talks, films, workshops and debates that move from museum collections to classrooms, and from artisan knowledges and heritages to decolonial creative practices.
Saturday 22 October 2022 welcomes five local fashioning research collectives and decolonial projects from Croatia, the Netherlands, Egypt, Morocco and Wales. They will share ways of remembering, caring and questioning with talks, films and workshops that move from workwear and a cultivating flax project, to fashion archives and decolonising design spaces.
Sunday 23 October 2022 ends with four local fashioning collectives from Brazil, Ghana, USA, and Peru, sharing ways of cultivating, reflecting and celebrating through talks, films, performance and workshops that move from decolonial fashion practices and museum interventions, to rethinking fashion knowledge forms and craftsmanship.
Each coalition hosts the Global Fashioning Assembly for two hours, offering an opportunity to share their local stories, practices and struggles to a global audience. In-between the hosting sessions are one-hour Sharing Councils for participants to share, reflect, listen and encourage to be deeply present to each other, to listen deeply and speak with each other, rather than speak at each other. Underpinning all aspects of the GFA22 is the work of building coalitional consciousness, and creating discourses regarding fashioning that are affirmative, regenerative and diverse.
By centring the time of the hosts and their audiences, and by the communal and shared processes of working in coalition, the GFA22 programme is both decentral yet collective, creating shared pathways to a politics of wholeness. As an experimental platform creating democratic spaces to gather, share, listen, (un)learn, address and connect, we hope this is the start of many more dialogues that aim to disrupt and decolonise practices of knowledge creation and sharing in relation to body fashioning.
The communally-owned GFA22 recordings will be shared through the GFA website, but more importantly, the resonances of decolonial listening, sharing and hosting will remain after the event, as a collective, culturally empowering ground to continue the work of fashioning pluriversal pathways into the future.