Twee vrouwen in kotomisi
23 June 2019

Saya and Koto exhibition

OPENING | 23 June 2019 | 14:00 - 16:30 | OBA Imagine IC

The koto and the saya are Afro-Caribbean costumes that emerged in the Caribbean during the Dutch colonial period. Worn mostly for formal or festive occasions, the koto was a form of gendered self-representation and self-styling within a colonial regime that denied respectability to the enslaved. The saya was everyday-ware worn both in the house and in public life.

Today these costumes can be seen in public life mostly in commemorative events, including special birthdays, funerals or memorial celebrations such as Keti Koti. Embedded in these costume are the skills and techniques associated with their making and wearing, the subjectivities that they represented, histories of women self-representation, and as heritage objects that ties present generation of women to a complex and entangled past.

In this exhibition we explore the meanings of these styles of dress today beyond the work that they do in the museum. How might they help us to better understand how the kotomisi functions in contemporary commemorative practices within the Netherlands? How might the object help us trace a genealogy of skill, knowledge and politics, both of enslaved women and their descendants? What might they tell us about gendered practices of refusal in the face of colonial violence? And what role did dress play in their claims to identities circumscribed under colonial power?

Imagine IC and the RCMC are in dialogue with several women who wear the koto and the saya and share their experiences and personal histories. The exhibition highlights an important aspect of the material heritage of Afro-Caribbean women and its functions in the contemporary. Makers and wearers will share their archives – from family stories to personal libraries and internet resources. The exhibition will show a preliminary result of what has been collected so far by Imagine IC.

On the festive opening at the OBA Bijlmerplein we explore how these styles of dress inspire contemporary fashion as well as how they call for more complex stories of heritage as well as the layered function the costume had.

Link to Dutch program on the website of Imagine IC.