Dressing For God – Clothed by Simangele Kalisa

Brief

The style of religion

The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) are instantly recognizable via their distinctive uniforms: the men are in khaki trousers and jackets, with black, flat-topped hats; the women, if in the choir, wear bright blue dresses, aprons and green berets, or green skirts and bright yellow blouses, green jerseys and berets. The signature green felt and metal ZCC badge. On a Sunday in black South Africa, the townships are florid with Zionists. Zionism comprises thousands of sects and autonomous congregations, and each seems to have its own sartorial scheme of robes, headdresses, staves and badges. At intervals along the urban creeks of Soweto, bright as bouquets, gathered to dunk new members in the water. Zionists gather on Melville Koppies and dance to drumbeats in the dim corners of parking garages and empty high-rise warehouses in downtown Johannesburg. Over Easter more than a million pilgrims congregate at Zion City, Moira outside Polokwane.

Working in the space between aesthetic creeds and religious creeds, the church, the street and the gallery, we draw on the work of artists such as Mary Sibande and Simangele Kalisa (who explore clothing as a site where history is contested and where fantasies play) out as a starting point to engage church fashion.

How does fashion contribute to spiritual fulfillment? How has the interplay of history, custom, invented traditions, politics and sales imperatives defined church uniforms? What role does church fashion play in defining a sense of identity and society? What is the politics of this uniform – how are status, roles and hierarchies expressed through church-wear? What’s its role in ceremony and ritual? How are the youth responding, tapping into or rebelling against church uniforms?

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