Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery 2015

This outfit was created by me, including all embroidery and pattern cutting, for my winning entry for the Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery 2015. My theme was a Nigerian Riot Girl, created from my brief below.

Photographer John Barwood, Model Patricia Ekall, Stylist Sue Ffyfe-Williams, MUA Jenny Davies, Couture sewing tips and techniques Andrew Richards.

Jacky Puzey              Hand and Lock Prize 2015

Country: Nigeria                    Bedfellows: M.I.A. and Jake and Dinos Chapman

My brief: Feral lace and fashion activism

‘Culture does not make people. People make Culture.’ C. N. Adichie

Welcome to Nigeria, a vast country that was not originally created by its inhabitants but by its British colonial masters to exploit for resources. It has become the largest state in West Africa since independence in 1960, both in geography and reputation. Nigerians have long sophisticated histories of textiles and arts cultures, from Yoruba Adire indigo dyeing, to Hausa hand embroidery, to the heavily embroidered Laces that create contemporary wedding, church, and occasion dresses. Nigeria is currently infamous abroad for corruption, scams, and missing oil money; for vast wealth, great poverty and political coups; for religious conflict and the pollution of the Niger Delta oil production; held up as an example of ‘African’ corruption and chaos. But, as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has pointed out, there is a great danger in taking a single story; because then the teller of that story has claimed all the power for their version of events, and both colonial and current elites have exploited Nigeria.

Deliberately, the Nigeria I looked at is full of diverse stories of resistance, of cultural negotiation and exchange. #BringBackOurGirls, about the kidnapping of the Chibok Girls by Boko Haram, has become one of the longest running and most successful twitter campaigns across Nigerian communities and international supporters, mobilizing a feminist activist space in a patriarchal country. Hellish landscapes of oil explosions and resource pillage sit side by side with a thriving contemporary fashion scene, for example Lagos luxury brand Tiffany Amber, and now more activist fashion from Maki Oh, reworking traditional textiles. The nomadic Gadawan Kura, or hyena handlers, prowl the streets of Lagos and Abuja, entertaining crowds with ‘wild’ animal displays, while luxury cars sit still in Lagos’ infamous ‘go-slows’, traffic jams. Nollywood films use Hollywood gangster storylines and mobile phone exchange rom-coms equally with indigenous Nigerian mythology about gods, monsters, possession and witchcraft, actors frozen in a postcolonial fusion of modernity and tradition in Pieter Hugo’s Nollywood portraits. Slum dwellers in the floating coastal slums of Makoko (Lagos) and Port Harcourt, fight back with self organizing fluid communities, working with contemporary architects to make floating schools and radio stations to reclaim their place. Tradition, culture and contemporary business are all fast moving and fluid within a country both conservative and incredibly inventive.

I wanted to create a Nigerian riot girl, a strong activist, both glamorous and able to fight back within her communities. Her elaborate lace outfit is created from a cocktail of embroidered oil spills, traditional Adire and Hausa motifs and stories and creatures that resist. The hyena, no longer muzzled, can transform into a witch; I used real fur and intricate embroidery to create a sense that the embroidery too might come alive. The crocodiles can live on both water and land, and are both feared and revered. The grey parrot is one of the five birds in the Yoruba Ife creation mythology; its tail is bright red because the gods allowed it to dip its feathers in bright red palm oil, and this myth in turn reflected and inspired the development of dye technologies in Yoruba culture. My parrot, built from real feathers, red paint and laser cuts, flies in a streak of red across the dress.

My Nigerian riot girl is also inspired by the ambiguous activism and street fashion glamour of M.I.A., from Paper Planes visas to desert swagger; and the rich gothic patterns created by Jake and Dinos Chapman for Louis Vuitton. Her look is a costume of opulence, resistance and renegotiation; it’s a couture feral lace, with the level of detail of the most expensive Swiss Lace embroidery, but some threads that also show in the dark, since those without money in Nigeria usually have no access to electricity. The mask replaces the head wrap and the hijab, its structure echoing the Yoruba head wraps and the veils worn by Hausa women, but refuses allegiance to any oppressive traditions. The trousers are pleated and designed like the mens’ Agbada robe trousers, rather than women’s trousers. Deliberately her look is a spectacular activism; dressing to pass across Nigeria’s many interlinking cultures, while fashioning new identities for a future where the Chibok girls will always be able to escape…

Thanks very much to Hand and Lock and the judges/public for choosing my outfit as the winner in the Open Category. You can see the full prize entries here!

You can also read my recent interview on the Funk Files page on Mr X Stitch’s blog/website. Very excited to be featured on here, there’s more about this outfit as well as more about my other work.