Crusading for awareness of African culture years ago in his plant biology class, University alumnus Diaa Osman suggested African civilizations classified plants long before the Swedish scientist was credited with the innovation.
“All I got in return was, ‘Yeah, we’re aware of that, but it’s not universally accepted,'” Osman said. “I got weird looks from my classmates. They didn’t want to hear it.”
Osman said that experience and others like it made him glad he attended the event called “Inside Africa” on Saturday evening at the Blue Nile Restaurant. Organizers aimed to highlight the complexities of African cultures with the festivities, said Petros Haile, music promoter and event coordinator.
An audience of more than 40 people packed chairs facing a stage and a runway to enjoy fashion shows, poetry readings and dances representing different regions of Africa.
Models displaying colorful traditional and contemporary African outfits strutted down a runway to African music and camera flashes. Later, drummers pounded a beat for four dancers who leapt and spun in unison.
Haile said he held individual fashion shows and poetry readings in the past, but “Inside Africa” is the first time he has offered the whole package.
Haile said people look at African cultures as one lifestyle, rather than recognizing that the continent is made up of 53 individual countries, each with one or several separate cultural systems.
“I want people to question themselves,” Haile said, “to question their knowledge of Africa based on the stereotypes they’ve encountered.”
Louise Caesar, manager of Cally’s Fashion, designed the clothes in the fashion show. Originally from Liberia, Caesar said she designs clothes which blend her “spiritual and cultural inheritance with the culture of the United States.”
Designing hybrid fashions increases American awareness and tolerance of African cultures, she said.
Rasheed Omar, a student at Minneapolis Community College, pays for college by modeling part-time. He said his favorite outfit was a flowing white robe with a gold and purple band down the sides. His grandfather wore the same clothes, traditionally warrior outfits. His accessory for the ensemble was a “Waran,” a two-foot knife that resembled a machete.
Omar, who is Somalian, modeled in “Inside Africa” for free to support Haile’s mission to increase awareness of African civilizations.
“I’m doing this for the culture,” Omar said. “People see us on TV dying or in wars. I wanted to show the positive side and do something fun.”
“I wouldn’t do just any show for free,” he said smiling.