Social sustainability and the Ugandan Haute Couture Visual Aesthetic: articulating the contemporary value of past traditions.
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The stride backwards to move forward exhibited by contemporary Ugandan haute couture artefacts amidst modern fashion aesthetic innovations, has repositioned past traditions as constructive in the contemporary 21st century. The study argues that traditional cultural heritage aesthetic is imbued with value that instigates contemporary society to persistently reinvent and reconstruct itself. The aesthetic has shaped haute couture artefacts into socially constructive objects representing the global and current notion of social sustainability. However, Scholarly literature on African fashion and dress does not articulate Ugandan haute couture in this global value reach. The interrogation of nine Ugandan contemporary haute couture shaped by past traditions, aimed at generating insight into the contemporary and global manifestation of a local and past traditional aesthetic. The process motivated the emergence of a discourse that articulates the nexus between haute couture, past traditions and social sustainability in the 21st century. Data for this study was attained, mainly underpinned by the theoretical grounding of the ‘Circuit of Culture’ supported by Shils’ Theory of tradition, Ferdinand Saussure’s ‘Constructionist theory of representation’, Baudrillard’s ‘Liberation of the Object’ and Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘Theory of Practice’. The process was guided by the Focused Ethnography research design supported by a narrative inquiry. Through a qualitative examination, the cultural trajectory of nine haute couture artefacts revealed that: the haute couture are a contemporary visual aesthetic shaped by an evolutionary traditional cultural heritage that is embodied with ecological, socio-cultural and economic significance; secondly, that through creative and innovative reinvention and disposition of selected traditional cultural heritage materials, the haute couture artefacts were transformed into a visual language representing the notion of social sustainability; lastly that the reinvention of past traditions has been influenced by the constructive nature of the traditional aesthetic, the contemporary discourse of sustainable development, and the dynamics of globalization. The study interpreted these findings to mean that: Past traditions are an engender of sustainable development, meeting Sustainable Development Goals 8, 12 and 16; that haute couture shaped by societies’ traditional cultural heritage aesthetic is an inclusive knowledge dissemination platform; and that the traditional aesthetic is an agential tool that facilitates creative practitioners to negotiate contemporary global society dynamics. The study has contributed original knowledge in various ways: First, it has articulated how the past traditions work in the 21st century, and enriched scholarship on African fashion with a Ugandan perspective. Secondly, it has established the social sustainability conceptual framework through which creative practitioners contribute to the sustainable development agenda. The framework also asserts social sustainability as the ideological structure for the inclusion of community social aspects in the global discourse. Thirdly, the study has demystified the Western world aura of the haute couture fashion genre, locating it as a socially inclusive knowledge publication platform. Fourth, it has remodelled the ‘Circuit of Culture’ theory, by supporting its tenets with other theories when applied to explore the cultural trajectory of a visual aesthetic in the contemporary 21st century. Lastly, it has been established that a creative practical engagement can support a meaning making argument during data interpretation within a study of visual art as a language. As such, the traditional aesthetic has emerged as constructive and progressive facilitating sustainable existence in the 21st century. It should thus be protected and archived for present and future use, and its value repeatedly published and pronounced such that society can embrace it towards socio-cultural and economic development.