UBUNTU 2023: Afrofuturism – Reviewed
Deputy Events Editor Jade Mkparu reviews UBUNTU’s 2023 showcase, Afrofuturism.
Earlier this semester, I reviewed the launch party for the Afro-Caribbean Society’s annual showcase UBUNTU. This time around, I’m pleased to share my perspective on the actual showcase, which took place on the 25th of March. To recap, the theme this year is Afrofuturism, which UBUNTU describes on their Instagram page as “a broad philosophy and social movement defined by the collective imagining of positive futurities for Africa and her people”. The committee’s charitable goal was to raise money for Forward UK , an anti-FGM charity that supports and empowers girls and women.
Right from my arrival, I felt so welcomed by the UBUNTU committee. The Co-Director of the showcase was at the door personally greeting guests and handing out goodie bags, and I was quickly whisked backstage for an exclusive look at the styling and outfits. There, I met up with student photographer Azeem (@photosbyazeem), who covered the showcase and also captured some wholesome behind-the-scenes moments from the preparation period. The excitement here was palpable: the models looked otherworldly in their outfits and accessories, with bold colours and designs featuring heavily in the makeup styles. One look in particular incorporated a silvery, circuit board-inspired pattern over one eye; another look was playful pink swirls and lines, with matching fuchsia diamante accents. The hairstyling was also very intricate and really impressed me. One of the models sported twin braided ponytails woven together with string into a structured “U” shape, and another had a high ponytail created with a long gold cuff, so the hair flowed down from a dramatic height.
As guests began filing into the Main Bar area of the Student Union, I went out to take a seat. This gave me a chance to really take in the immersive configuration of the runway: it wrapped around part of the seating area and passed through a raised stage, creating an island from which guests could admire the fashion and dances. There were also more seats in other areas of the space, but from my vantage point on the “island” I truly felt immersed in the show. The showcase soon began with a sound clip of a woman’s voice, in which she passionately highlighted the contributions of black culture to popular culture, and particularly to pop culture conceptions of the future. This was accompanied by images from earlier photoshoots the UBUNTU models had done, and had the effect of creating an audiovisual taster of what Afrofuturism means to UBUNTU.
After this introduction, a group of dancers filed onto the stage and assumed ready stances, heads down. Backlit by the red lighting, their poses reflected the sense of anticipation that was building in the audience. A familiar intro from Beyoncé’s Renaissance (2022) faded in and they began their routine, igniting the crowd. The energy they brought to the choreography really gave the performance a powerful and infectious quality: you could tell they really felt the lyrics about empowerment, self-belief and extraterrestrial flair. This was one of two dance numbers that punctuated the show, and for many guests they were a highlight of the night.
During the fashion segments, the models were exceptionally confident and breezed down the runway, strutting to the beat of the music and the sound of a cheering crowd. The walks were grouped by designer (or pairs of designers), which meant the looks always shared a cohesive theme or visual through-line. One collection featured a silver jumpsuit made from thick material reminiscent of a spacesuit, with a structured, puffed sleeve. Another look drew viewers’ eyes to the back of the garment, from which a net of orange beading hung off the model, with bright blue charms hanging from the tendrils. This collection was so colourful and you could see the designer’s affinity for contrasting materials, as well as for experimenting with how they can be expressed off of the body and how they hang.
Another designer celebrated ankara and batik fabrics in their collection, in shades of bright pinks, reds and yellows. A few of these looks featured the trumpet maxi skirt and cropped blouse silhouette: a popular combination in many African cultures when it comes to custom-made traditional clothing. One collection included a dress that had an underlayer of airy, hot pink net fabric that was bound by an outer layer of silver lycra worn over it. The lycra dress was slashed horizontally at intervals, so the gauzy fabric puffed through the tears and gave the look a futuristic and otherworldly shape.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the 2023 edition of UBUNTU. This cultural showcase is often spoken of as one of the most fun and vibrant shows in St Andrews, and I definitely received that impression from the performances and artistry on display. The support from the crowd was palpable and the range of designs featured did a good job of presenting the plurality of futurities and the creativity that underpins Afrofuturism. Most of all, I loved how proud everyone was of the whole show and what they achieved by the end. It is heartwarming to see that the legacy of UBUNTU is in good hands.
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