Kaduna Fashion and Art week (KAFART) exhibits every year in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. This year’s edition is a revue which features various vibrant cultures from northern Nigeria, and other countries in the Sahel Africa.
KAFART was established in 2019, the year in which its founder, Ganeeyah Sanni realized that there were not a lot of northern Nigerian representation in the mainstream Nigerian and African fashion industry. Considering her access to the untapped potentials in the region, she decided to create a platform that could showcase these skills and talent to a global audience, hence the birth of KAFART.
Kaduna State, Nigeria was chosen as KAFART’s ideal location because it is a central place to people both in the city centres of Northern Nigeria, and those in the deeper outskirts of the region.
“Since its inception, KAFART has become a platform for Northern Nigerian creatives, fashion designers and artists to showcase their work to a larger audience. Looking at all the negativity and challenges that the north of the country experiences, these factors drove us to start searching for better narratives.” Ganeeyah explains.
“By telling other stories of northern Nigeria, through fashion and arts, we are saying ‘Let people see what else we can be beyond what is being portrayed by the media.’
“That is also one of the reasons why we have stayed true to what we are doing now. And we’ve seen that a lot of people, especially people in the creative industry – people doing crafts who have lots of skills but don’t feel like there’s much that can come from it; what we’re trying to do is position these skills as something that they can monetize and gain income, you know.”
KAFART is envisioned to be a platform for not just Northern Nigerians, but also for creatives in Sahel sub-Saharan Africa. This year’s exhibition is a testament to this as artists, brands and other creatives from Sahel African countries such as Senegal and Mali will be exhibiting at KAFART for the first time. This intra-continental alliance began with a story Ganeeyah shares below.
“I have gone to some places within Africa, in West Africa. Places like Mali and Senegal. And I have realized that the people in these countries have similar cultural practices as northern Nigeria, which is where I live and where I’m based. It is where I’ve been all my life. I have seen the way people behave here. Going to these other countries felt so familiar to me even though it was a new landscape. It felt recognizable. I could see things that were similar with the identity of where I am from.
“I couldn’t speak French which implies that I couldn’t really communicate as much as I wanted. That pushed me to expand our scope a little bit further and invite countries the Sahel region. Nigeria is also part of Sahel Africa, geography-wise. It just made sense to involve countries like Mali and Senegal.
“We decided to expand our scope to Sahel Africa for now. And be a platform that people can find creative from within this region of Northern Nigeria, as well as within those other parts of Sahel Africa. We also want to be strong contributors of professional development to creatives. Because doing this exhibition has really exposed us to a lot of gaps in the industry.
“Lack of the knowledge on the part of the artist and fashion designers as well as lack of mentorship opportunities and infrastructure are major loopholes to be filled up. Our eyes are now open enough to see all these things. So, in future we hope to be able to mitigate these gaps and provide the kind of support that the people we’re asking to showcase their work through our platform need in future. That’s the vision.”
Kaduna, and other states in Northern Nigeria are preconceived ‘no-go’ or what one could call ‘red zones’ in Nigeria due to the level of insecurity in that part of the country. Regardless of this, KAFART organizers have displayed resilience to this factor by continually hosting the event. Ganeeyah speaks about how it has been possible to keep hosting this event for creatives in an environment where safety comes first. She displays admittance to the limitations KAFART has faced over the years, while trying to host its festival.
“Truthfully” she begins, “living in Kaduna, sometimes the insecurity topic hardly ever comes up when you’re having conversations especially with people living here. I know people see the news. I mean, the Kaduna-Abuja road is undeniably dangerous. But It’s not every time one goes on the road that they get kidnapped.
“I have been on the road a couple times this year and I arrived at my destination safely. Recently there are heavy military patrols along our highways and, that brings the feeling of some sort of sense of security. I haven’t heard of any crazy happening lately. Nonetheless, there are still going to be some criminals here and there trying to cause some trouble.
“Planning something like what we do, the KAFART exhibition, we definitely do take security into consideration. We try to get the government involved. We get security agencies involved. But, that’s not our biggest challenge. I’d say the biggest challenge we face is trying to bring in people from other places, maybe from Lagos or other states in the country.
“In the city, I mean, Kaduna city, there isn’t anything like insecurity going on. Sometimes you even feel cut off from the news. The outskirts of town is the major places that feel the heat of what is happening. Because the bandits, the criminals, feel like it’s easier for them to just attack those communities because they are out of the main town. They feel they can get away with anything in smaller towns. And I don’t know much about the infrastructure of our security in this country, but I wonder why there isn’t immediate action and all of that.
“The main city is safe.
“Organizing things like this at a time when the whole world has already put a mark on you is very hard. It has always been hard. But we try to be resilient.
“We are deriving solutions, mapping out terrains, having proper communication to let people know what is happening here.
“Just recently, we tried to invite an artist to perform at our exhibition from Lagos and he was saying ‘no’ very blatantly because of the security state of our state. And we’re like, ‘we literally would fly you in, it’s not like you’re going to be road bound at any point. It’s going to be by air, we fly you in from Lagos to Kaduna because the Airport is open and a lot of people have been using it since then and we haven’t sincerely heard anything happening’. He refused.
“I’m sure because of what the media showcases and all the things that have happened in the past this artist was really just looking out for his safety despite our assurances, offering extra security and all of that.
“So, it’s been really challenging trying to grow in a place like this, because sometimes forces around would try to keep you small and keep you in just a certain position. But, thank God for the internet, you can connect with people from all over the world. You can have things with them, they can do workshops for you from wherever they are. You can open yourself up more because of the internet thankfully.
“Ultimately, we’ve navigated our terrain, we understand our community, we understand our environment a lot. These things give us the confidence to do what we’re doing now.”
Creativity, arts and entertainment are generally concepts that bring a bit of fresh air and positivity to how places are perceived. If you consider Nigeria as a whole, things aren’t really great right now, honestly. But some entertaining concepts of Nigeria will always keep people engaging with the positive aspects of the country. For example, Nigerian music is popping globally now, and there is a wanton desire for its culture. In the same way, for northern Nigeria, KAFART serves as one of those beautiful, different perspectives of Northern Nigeria.
Organisers of the event have successfully built international rapport with other Sahel countries despite the limitations. The exchange of creativity cultures, the new experiences to be created through these new exchange, these are values that cannot be erased from thoughts and memories. Ganeeyah speaks about why it was important for KAFART to collaborate and exchange culture with similar creatives and brands from other Sahel-African countries.
“One of the things that directed me to this idea was I realized that as Africans, we are close mostly in terms of borders, but we kind of don’t understand one another so much. Honestly, I’m of the opinion that we as Nigerians don’t really know neighboring countries that much.
“Looking back at how I travelled and saw other people’s cultures, it made me feel like I didn’t even know what the case in other countries was. I had a different picture entirely and I went there and experienced something else.
“I think it’s important for us as Africans to look inwards. We should explore beyond our borders, beyond our barriers. We should consider ways in which we can support each other by collaborating. I believe that in Africa, we can be more united.
“I discovered that if I am to order something from Senegal or from a different African country in West Africa, I will find it hard to even pay because I literally don’t know how to. Not many payment platforms support payment between Francophone African countries and ours. It’s usually just other English-speaking African countries that we comfortably trade with. Also, in terms of logistics, if I want to send something to someone in Mali, it’s very expensive. I’m guessing this is because it’s not as common as it should be”.
“Even inter-African flights are more expensive than travelling to Europe” I chip in.
“Exactly!” Ganeeyah asserts. “And you would wonder why it is so, because you would feel ‘okay maybe we don’t have many people attempting to go to Mali? Why would I want to go there? I don’t speak French, they don’t speak English. So why would I go there?’”
“I think that that mindset of not understanding one another contributes to all of these challenges we’re facing. Because, if I don’t feel like I need to do anything with someone in Mali or Senegal, it means definitely if someone else wants to do something, buy something or maybe travel there, it would be expensive for them. Not many people are traveling as much as they should .
“To think that we are closer to these countries than we are to Europe or even South Africa. That was one thing that informed my thinking. I felt this disconnect, and it made me think that we need to find each other here within Africa. Someone once told me that the idea of borders is imaginary, it’s in our heads. If you go somewhere else you would see people just like you, behaving like you culturally.
“I met with a couple designers while I was in Dakar and they used some element of clothing that I keep seeing in Northern Nigeria. The embroidery technique they keep employing here, I see them using it over there, employed in more contemporary ways. And the first thing that came to mind was ‘this would literally fly here.’ It would literally sell here.
“People would love embroidery here. And seeing it designed differently makes things even better because it is made from a material that they already recognize. It’s a familiar thing. And it would just keep people exploring markets around here.”
“Furthermore, I think that in Sahel Africa, places like those I mentioned earlier, there are similarities even in the kind of challenges they experience with ours. There is insurgency in these countries too. The climate change has been a huge contributor to the conflict because of the scarcity of resources, drought and all of that. It’s really affecting the regions. Extending to northern Nigeria.
“So, I decided to use this as an opportunity to sort of start conversations, you know. Let us see our likeness, our commonness, in hope to build more connection between each other and embrace one another more.”
Ganeeyah’s ideas and KAFART’s platform really are major drivers for intra–continental trade and the promotion of unorthodox oriental fashion and designs. So it’s little or no wonder when KAFART received a grant from the European Union for a project carried out in partnership with Institute Française. Ultimately, the work being done can create the change and positivity needed for northern and inter-Sahel African relations.