Reni Folawiyo’s Latest Exhibition 'The Hausa RIGA, Life, Art and Power in Dressing' continues at ALARA

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An exhibition envisioned as a contemporary interpretation of the vintage riga embroidery on fine robes culturally valued as markers of influence and honor.

ALARA Lagos, Victoria Island’s deep-orange architectural landmark that represents all things contemporary art, design, fashion, cuisine, and culture, recently unveiled their latest exhibition celebrating the tradition and power of the Hausa Riga.

The exhibition is envisioned as a contemporary interpretation of the vintage Riga embroidery on fine robes culturally valued as markers of influence, robes of honor, and ceremonial attire. The pieces in this exhibition are part of Alara’s founder, Reni Folawiyo’s personal collection, all strenuously hand-spun by skilled embroiderers.

The Hausa Riga is a prestigious garment that can be dated back to the 1830s after the arrival of the Fulani rulers. This style of male attire can be referred to as “robes of honor,” worn not only by the kings and chiefs but other elite figures such as emirs, politicians, and fortunate businessmen.

Hausa Rigas have an ornate yet elegant style that consists of heavy embroidering on the chest, back, and around the neck. They contain several complex designs ranging from fractal-like shapes and repeated geometrical patterns that are either scaled down or enlarged small motifs that come together for a robust visual architecture. Motifs are generally drawn by the embroiderers themselves using a free-hand pen on the cloth surface.

This task is noted to be done with astonishing rapidity and dexterity. Thus requiring a considerable amount of training, skill, and knowledge about surfaces, dimensions, and the location of stitches or fiber ‘drawings,’ which are then applied onto pre-cut surfaces and subsequently re-assembled into a gown by the tailor. The cost of embroidery can be understandably high; a medium-sized gown can take up to 4 months to be completed.  

The Hausa wild silk embroidered gowns are visually appealing and constitute a material identity of power both individually and as well as group social status. The Hausa Riga material is known for carrying more than cultural meanings. Other identity markers can be found, such as political status, hierarchy, religious and social affiliations, wealth, and thus charismatic power.

These days, the garments are made from brocade imported from countries like Switzerland, Germany, and China, and with the advent of embroidering machines, top quality hand-made robes like the ones showing at the exhibition, made with age-old skills of weaving fine hand-spun cotton and hand embroidery are no longer common.

With this exhibit, ALÁRA reiterates the necessity of educating ourselves to value and preserve this culture and our rich past. The exhibition is open to the public until October 20, 2021, and can be seen in-store at Alara Lagos.

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