Art and fashion are about exploring new avenues of creativity. That is exactly what Cameroon-born artist and designer Serge Mouangue has done. After relocating to Japan, he came up with the concept of Wafrica, his company that focuses on designs that encapsulate both West Africa and Japanese aesthetics. And one of the designs he has crafted is beautiful wax print kimonos made with African print cloth.
Mouangue, who studied at Art, Design and Architecture in Paris, generated such interest with his Wafrica projects that he became a TED Fellow in 2011. Mouangue’s work has exhibited in Australia and, Japan, France, Senegal, the Netherlands, Sweden, America (New York, US. Museum of Art and Design for “Global Africa Project” exhibition 2011), Switzerland (National Museum of Art, 2014), and Kenya.
Mouangue told TNJ.com more about his life, career, and creative passions.
TNJ.com How did you come to live in Japan?
Serge Mouangue: I was drawn to Japan intuitively. I actively searched for an opportunity to live and work there during my career in automotive design. I have resided permanently in Tokyo for more than five years. Every day I felt inspired by my experience of Japanese culture.
TNJ.com What made you want to get into fashion?
Serge Mouangue: I have always been involved with different areas of art and design at the same time. Already as a student in Paris, I explored fashion design and I continued to engage in small side projects during my time in automotive. I am passionate about my work and never let an opportunity to be involved in a project that excited me, pass by.
TNJ.com: You lived in Paris for some while, why did you decide to pursue fashion elsewhere?
Serge Mouangue: After completing my advanced diploma with ENSCI in Paris, I was offered the possibility to work as a designer with Renault. It was a career beginning that was too good to pass up. I also worked freelance for a sports and streetwear brand. That was a lot of fun. I followed my own design through process in China and learned a lot from the experience. Meeting people and traveling is a really important source of inspiration.
TNJ.com: Why do you feel there are similarities between the African and
Japanese art sensibility?
Serge Mouangue: I express my curiosity and experiences through the artistic process. Japan immediately felt familiar in many ways, which didn’t surprise me in a way because I had worked my way there deliberately. There exists a rhythm and process to creation there that felt natural to me, a respect for elders, nature and tradition that permits all aspects of life there. It is codified in a similar way to my own culture.
TNJ.com: How did you come up with the idea for the African kimono?
Serge Mouangue: The first kimono was made as a gift. The giving of gifts is an important part of Japanese culture. What was fascinating to me was the way in which a new aesthetic was created; at once Japanese and West African, without belonging to either. I have been exploring that in different forms: events, sculpture, photography, fashion for more than 10 years now. There is still so much to discover.
TNJ.com: How did you become a TED Fellow?
Serge Mouangue: Ted invited me to join the TED fellow program in 2010 when I was living in Tokyo. Being a Ted Fellow has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing people from all around the world and participate in some really interesting projects.
TNJ.com: Do you travel back to Cameroon a lot?
Serge Mouangue: Travel is an important part of my life and my work. I could never get back to Cameroon often enough and I hope to find some time for an extended visit there soon. It is such an important part of my identity. I don’t necessarily think we only “belong” where we come from, but nowhere in the world can I experience myself the way I do there. Spending time with family and just hearing the music that is your first language, recharges your sense of yourself. Cameroon has been an essential motivational driver.
TNJ.com: Where can people buy and see your products?
Serge Mouangue: At the moment, my work is headlining in an Exhibition at the H. Wright Museum in Detroit USA. It is also a part of the permanent collection for Amsterdam National Museum of Culture in Amsterdam and the National Museum of Culture in Basel, Switzerland. Wafrica isn’t a fashion label but purchase can be made through contact on my website Wafrica.jp.
TNJ.com: What’s next for you?
Serge Mouangue: In October I will be part of Full-Circle Art Africa for the second year running. Never before seen sculptural works will be shown in a solo exhibition, during this festival. It’s really exciting.