Cultural and artistic expressions are continually evolving, transforming in response to new social circumstances and as emerging materials spur the reinvention of traditional practices. In Africa, dance has been an important form of social communication and celebration, connecting past and present. Traditionally African dancers have drawn on the local environment and materials for their attire, tying strings of shells, stones or plants around their legs, arms or neck to add sounds as they moved.
On display is one such garment – a dance skirt or sash from Zambia constructed from short pieces of bamboo that are strung together and tied onto a plant fibre band. Contemporary lived environments also offer access to new materials, such as the metal caps from bottles of Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta Orange and Castle Beer that are attached to the bottom of the garment, creating a loud jangling sound when the dancer moves. Such materials are also widely and creatively adapted in other contexts – as wheels on toy cars, counters on an abacus, and as fish scalers.
While the skirt clearly embodies cultural memory, it also captures the dynamism of contemporary African culture which is shaped by global forces and yet is constantly actively redefining these relationships. Reflecting the construction, function and design of traditional costume, the creative transformation of modern materials that are the by-product of global influences highlights the significance of inherited cultural practices and the perpetual motion of cultural innovation and ingenuity.