From March 30 to June 9, 2014, in the coastal town of Knokke-Heist, Belgium’s international photography festival hosted an outdoor exhibition that brought together world-renowned artists whose works examine contemporary African dress practices. The continent’s burgeoning fashion industry signals a newfound creative energy and prosperity, yet it also raises debate around such issues as Westernization, postcolonialism, race, gender equality and religion.

Haute Africa focused on the work of photographers who are not interested in African fashion per se but who choose instead to conduct an anthropological study of contemporary African clothing culture. Magnum photographer Martin Parr was the festival’s ambassador and contributed his Luxury series, which includes candid images of a South African elite wearing Western designer clothes and sipping champagne at the Durban July races. Conversely, Daniele Tamagni’s Gentlemen of Bacongo documents the lives of a different kind of elite, the sapeurs of Congo-Brazzaville, whose devotion to European bespoke suits creates a stark contrast to their modest day-to-day reality.

These and other participating artists including Viviane Sassen, Zanele Muholi, Hassan Hajjaj, NontsikeleloVeleko, Jodi Bieber, Phyllis Galembo and Namsa Leuba, are opening up a new discourse where art and fashion collide.

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