Meet Wekaforé Maniu Jibril, the young Barcelona-based Nigerian designer creating his own nouvelle negritude
“It's very calm, you can just not do anything and be okay. There's no pressure to keep up with any pace and it gives me a lot of time to look into myself and think.” Nigerian designer Wekaforé Maniu Jibril is talking to us about Barcelona, his adoptive home. The city’s relaxed spirit is one that this young talent finds conducive to his work, which is little wonder given the fact that each of his collections is not just a sartorial statement, but a political one, too.
Woven into every design are hours of research and reasoning and it’s only when Jibril has decided on both a concept and a message that he can begin designing. “That's why I’ve been hibernating, I have to think about what exactly I am trying to do before I even start drawing. It all starts from a conversation and working out how to talk about it in a PG, friendly way,” he explains.
Born in Lagos and growing up in a devoutly Christian household, Jibril dreamed of becoming a preacher. “We would go to church and the preacher was so respected. People came every Sunday just to listen to this guy talk about what he thought – I want to talk and I want an audience!” he exclaims. These childhood aspirations have been realised, but not through the medium that he initially envisaged. “Involuntarily, subconsciously, I became what I always wanted to become. I’m preaching in a different way.”
“The people who I design for are just curious and really want to experience culture from another part of the world”
Jibril moved to Dubai with his family in 2007 after a fire destroyed their home, where he began to create slogan t-shirts in 2013. He went on to study fashion in Bilbao and by 2016 he had established his eponymous brand. T-shirts have continued to play a vital role in getting his point of view across, but his work has evolved and there’s now a subtle grace in his collections expressed through his choice of muted palettes, interesting textures and intricate details.
While he categorises himself as part of the Nigerian fashion scene (“I'm kind of like that distant son, but I’m from Lagos, there are no two ways about it.”), displacement has given him a global outlook. “It’s more punk when you mix up perspectives,” he says. It’s also meant that he’s garnered a cult following that’s as open minded as he is. “The people who I design for are just curious and really want to experience culture from another part of the world.”
His latest collection – steeped in West African beliefs and languages – reclaims pre-Christian ideas. “In Nigeria, there's God in everything. And it has really changed the way that we express ourselves – we have lost a lot of emotional expression to religion. It has even affected the way that we create art. I'm exploring all of that and also creating more African propaganda with Nouvelle Afrique - the Afrofuturist state of mind, taking our futures into our own hands and redefining what and who we are - yet still trying to form this primitive kind of total asset. It's a work in progress.”
Jibril’s brand has a 360-degree execution, with the young designer also hosting his own party in Barcelona, The Voodoo Club. While it was created primarily to support his brand financially, it also familiarises his audience with his aesthetic (the vibe brings to life a vintage Malick Sidibé studio, soundtracked by the likes of DJ feMo) - and is a way of talking about how colonisation – followed by Americanisation – have trampled upon Nigeria’s rich indigenous culture. “There’s a lot of our history that I don't know. I’m just finding out about things from the 1970s that I’ve never heard of because everyone wanted to be British and go to London, so we stopped teaching our kids about our own culture. We demonised our own culture.”
His next collection will continue to evolve this journey of rediscovery and self determination. “Next season I'm exploring exoticism. In the 1800s there was a lot of rude anthropology by Europeans. I was reading about the rise of negrophilia in French literature and culture, and how racism helped French people to find their identity after the war. By creating an identity for the black people, a primitive and a savage identity, they were able to stabilise themselves as the other.” Continuing, “I’ve been thinking about how I can turn that on its head. If I exoticise the people just as they did, I am in turn exoticising myself. In that way I’m owning it. I am owning the savagery, I’m owning the primitivity and cult, taking it and making it my own aesthetic. My own legit art form.”
With each step, he aims to elevate the African aesthetic and make it mainstream, but in a way that pays no heed to the West’s gaze. “I would say when it [African fashion] is spotlighted in western media it still looks very exotic and very conceptual. It’s like, ‘Oh look at what these people are doing it's so different, it's so nice, but we're still going to buy Gucci or Balenciaga’, right? I feel like it's a new world, it's entirely different. All we've been able to consume is the European point of view but there's another 1,000 years of African perspective that's just locked up and we're slowly pulling it out. I look forward to becoming the African brand that you could look at, get and just buy. I want to make it more accessible for everyone.” And with his colossal talent and drive, we’d put money on Wekaforé achieving just that.