Pittsburgh's Afrocentric Beauty-And-Culture Festival Goes Global -- And Virtual

Oct 16, 2020

In 2001, Demeatria Boccella founded FashionAFRICANA, a Pittsburgh-based series of events to celebrate Black beauty and design.

Designs like this one from Ghanain label Christie Brown are featured in FestivalAFRICANA
Credit Courtesy of FestivalAFRICANA

This year, that Afrocentric event has evolved into something even bigger: FestivalAFRICANA, co-produced by Boccella and Nelly Wandji, a Paris-based curator born in Cameroon. The event was originally planned to be in-person. Like so much else during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s gone virtual. But Boccella said that might simply let it reach an even wider audience.

“I was telling someone the other day I feel like FashionAFRICANA is growing up,” she said.

FestivalAFRICANA plans a series of four multi-day events spotlighting different African cities and nations. The inaugural weekend focuses on artists, designers and entrepreneurs from the Ghanaian capital of Accra. The 90 minutes of programming daily Sat., Oct. 17, and Sun., Oct. 18, includes film, interviews, and a musical performance by singer and rapper Worlasi.

“What I’m excited about with all this is the cultural aspect of it,” said Boccella. “So we’ll be learning more about what moves [the contributors] spiritually, and why they feel that their particular product or service or whatever it is that they do is important to them and how it is indigenous to their culture.”

Boccella said FestivalAFRICANA grew out of her relationship with Wandji, founder of MoonLook, a company that highlights creativity from the African diaspora. Boccella met her a few years ago through a contributor to an edition of FashionAFRICANA.

“Once I got to know her, the mission behind her work and how she creates this platform to showcase and celebrate Black creativity through art and fashion, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, our worlds are aligned, we’re just on two different continents!’” said Boccella, laughing.

FestivalAFRICANA: Sat., Oct. 17, and Sun., Oct. 18

Their first collaboration was “Heroes and Sheroes,” a 2018 exhibit at the Heinz History Center featuring the work of Hollywood costume designer Ruth E. Carter (“Black Panther,” “Malcolm X”).

FestivalAFRICANA includes a screening of “There’s No Place Like Home,” a fashion-themed short film shot in and around Accra, a coastal city. There are also interviews with Black women influencing fashion, beauty and lifestyle, including Nana Konamah, who founded the skin-and-hair-care line Pure Persona, and Victorine Sarr Awuhah, who created the Lyvv, an organic lipstick created from locally sourced ingredients.

The performance by Worlasi is live but prerecorded and will be streamed both days. Sunday’s programming starts with a dance master class led by Accra-based artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland.

"Oh my gosh, our worlds are aligned, we're just on two different continents!"

There is even an on-screen Pittsburgh component, said Boccella. Both days’ programming will include a studio visit with Gavin Benjamin, an artist born in Guyana and now working in Pittsburgh.

Attending the virtual festival is free. More information is here.

Boccella said three more installments of FestivalAFRICANA are planning, highlighting Dakar, Senegal; Lagos, Nigeria; and South Africa. The Dakar installment is planned for March and will also be virtual, she said.

Boccella, who grew up in Hazelwood, has never visited Africa herself. But she said connecting to the continent through culture is important to her.

“This has always been a passion of mine because it’s my journey of self-healing and acceptance,” she said. “Reaching out and learning more about my African ancestry and heritage has really helped me throughout my journey.”