Birthed and stitched into fruition in Lagos Nigeria, BLOKE is an androgynous artisanal label introducing a distinct notion of luxury through a quirky and idiosyncratic aesthetic which is simultaneously, as they describe, “enveloped with an undertone of spiritual consciousness”. With the announcement of its Spring/Summer 20 collection through visuals, BLOKE employs an interesting use of colour and textile that illicit an emotive response and a playful subversion of binaries to meditate on the concept of family. Titled FAMILY PORTRAIT, the collection is an inquisitive look into what family means and the seemingly unsuspected effects of family on individuals in society during this contemporary temporal moment. The designer uses their own family as a point of reference as well as drawing inspiration from the photographers produced in the 70s by Sedjou Keita and the recent paintings of Joy Labinjo which both focus on the concept and construction of family through an African gaze. BLOKE uses the family tree diagram, and family anagram as a print on the garments to depict the interwoven intricacies of of the concept of family and as a means of paying homage to the respect and importance of ancestors within African cultures. It simultaneously diffuses ideas of a homogenous family through the artisanal approach; through fabrication. By employing the use of multiple varying textiles, textures and techniques such as cotton, linen and lace to name a few and the art of knitting, hand dying, appliqué and silkscreening.
Let me tell you about family;
a sight of resistance
a doing word
a lump at the back of your throat
shackles that bind
a laugh you find in the presence of strangers who feel like home
a chosen thing
a messy, complicated, sacred-yet-oh-so-human-thing
While looking at the images created for FAMILY PORTRAIT, I am transported back to a family portrait moment of my own, however, not in the sense of a traditional photograph and not with a family that had been assigned to me by blood laws. It was the 30th of December 2017. The saturated and sticky scent of unease and look-at-all-of-the-feelings-we-did-not-know-how-to-name-along-the-way, were sitting heavy in the air waiting to erupt with some promise of catharsis. There is something about the end of time that announces itself like waves crashing into shores and tides pulling you under. An irreconcilable fact given that time does not abide by the rules of beginnings and endings. “You can stay in the same place forever and still find ways to leave people”. The seven of us – a harmonious and clashing imagined rainbow we called chosen family – had spoken about getting a group tattoo for some years in counting now. But it was there amidst the mud, noise, chaos and crashing into each other bodies of Afropunk Johannesburg, that it was finally coming into fruition.
We stumble to the tattoo stall, our varying levels of intoxication as the joy drenched soundtrack to the imminent moment. After a short standoff of disagreement, delightfully unexpected, we all agree on a tattoo of a dandelion. Chosen within that moment for no great reason of symbolic importance. Retrospectively, however, I think the dandelion chose us. In the same ways we chose each other. An etched in skin symbolic declaration of the ways in which we elect to do and imagine love. A family portrait etched onto skin. This moment and its underlying driving sentiments echo the designer’s statement when talking about the Spring/Summer 2020 collections: “My conclusive observations are family is a reconciliation of people with different personalities, bounded by the same ideals and often times upbringing… the colour palette utilises the complete spectrum of colours to show the diversity and complexities in a family…”
Now you tell me what is family?
Photography: Lakin Ogunbanwo
Styling: Adebayo Oke-Lawal
Creative direction: Faith Oluwajimi
Photographer’s Assistant: Oluwapelumi Ogunde
Shot on Location in Yaba, Lagos