The African Lookbook provides a long-overdue course correction ...The images McKinley presents make clear that so much of what we see on the runways in New York, Paris, London and Milan draws inspiration from what has been created and worn by African women for decades. The images also offer a subtle indictment of Western so-called tastemakers who fail to credit and highlight African creatives in the fashion world ... McKinley delicately reminds us that African traditions, styles, creations and the people themselves — with their many layers and differences — don’t need to come from fictional kingdoms like Zamunda or Wakanda to deserve attention. The real, everyday beauty of Africa is worth canonizing beyond the continent.
Rather than an exegesis, then, what McKinley offers in this compelling, quixotic book is something closer to a testament—a bold declaration of the enduring strength, beauty and power of African women, many of whom gaze at the camera with evident self-possession. The book is a pleasure to absorb, whether you already know about the history of photography on the African continent or are new to the conversation. All the images are from McKinley’s personal collection, gathered over many years, and they seem to announce themselves with joy. From colonial-era photographs to studio portraits to postcolonial expressions of cosmopolitan poise, the collection offers a vibrant, inchoate and compelling snapshot of African women over time ... McKinley puts African women at the center of their own stories, exploring their pictures with admiration and respect and inviting readers to look alongside her.
Selecting from her personal collection, curator McKinley showcases 150 studio photographs of African girls and women (mostly from Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Nigeria, and other countries in the Sahel and along the continent’s Atlantic coast) in this richly detailed and immersive visual history ... Packed with arresting images and incisive analysis, this well-conceived survey tells a powerful story of African liberation.