“Culture does not make people. People make culture.”
— Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.
I was part of an extraordinary project. Last year, talented embroidery designer Jacky Puzey took part in Hand & Lock’s prestigious fashion prize – and won. The brief of her category was Feral Lace & fashion Activism. Her submission was “Nigerian Riot Girl.” The ensemble was inspired in part by the Chibok Girls who were forcefully taken by Boko Haram. The subsequent #BringBackOurGirls campaign of 2015 is recognizable to almost all who indulge in social media. Jacky spent her formative years in west Africa, which fed into the narrative of her embroidered dress and harem pants. And it’s quite a narrative, too. As well as having a striking impact, the outfit gives the viewer the opportunity to find its micro narratives. Therefore, to my eyes, there are hyenas, wild plants, hashtags, symbology, butterflies, maps, birds of prey and M.I.A…
More than a craft or skill, Jacky’s pursuit of this art form has seen her explore and develope her style over the years. This has manifested in brilliant projects, commissions and collaborations. Jacky uses fur, feathers, tweed and organza with drawing, along with laser cutting and digital embroidery. In addition, she is known for combining traditional embroidery skills with digital technology. Due to this level of passion and expertise Jacky’s work caught the attention of the Hand & Lock judges. But her creativity is, as far as I can tell, original and incomparable. Last week, I visited her exhibition at New Designers One Year On and was blown away by her display – and hers alone.
Interestingly, I’ve been visiting ND from a young age. I have always noted the extraordinary talent showcased there. In fact, the whole point of ND is to highlight the cream of the crop, which is why I so looked forward to returning. It’s not only because she is warm, passionate, engaging, endlessly creative and unique that Jacky’s corner outshone the rest. Or maybe it is? After all, is it not an artist’s mission to bear their soul with their work. In other words, to present their art as an extension of their personality? If this is the case, I see why Jacky’s display was so inviting. Of her inspiration for Nigerian Riot Girl, Puzey comments:
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… In addition, 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.
Thus I had the opportunity to be the Nigerian riot girl. It was such a strong look that it practically modeled itself. In photographer John Barwood’s Clifton living room-cum-studio, I moved within the garment trying to do it justice by posing my tail off. The look was brought together by stylist Sue Fyfe-Williams and the makeup was done by MUA Jenny Davies.
My mother accompanied Jacky, who was there to oversea the shoot. Due to the fact this shoot was for the competition, we had to adhere to strict guidelines. Therefore, we all felt the pressure to represent Jacky’s hard work and talent as best we could. And it paid off! The night she won, I was barely surprised. Again a standout, I’d thought they would have been crazy to have overlooked her. Thankfully, the didn’t. And the rest is history.
Thank you Hand & Lock for a wonderful evening and well done Jacky for your beautiful work of art. Well deserved.