Who? Damian Ohl
What? Neo.Fashion.: Graduate Shows and Awards
Where? Berlin Fashion Week
Why designs by Damian Ohl matter?
“Bondo” is a collection inspired, or should I say disturbed by, an initiation rites of passage ceremony which practices female circumcision. Through an intercultural cooperation between organizations from Germany and Sierra Leone, Designer, Damian Ohl, states that he collected stories from the members of the secret societies in Sierra Leone in developing his work.
Women’s rights Sierra Leone activist, Rugiatu Neneh Turay, is a staunch advocate of eliminating the cultural practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in West Africa. After years of activism, Turay’s campaign paid off in Sierra Leone. According to Reuters, as of January 2019, Sierra Leone has banned FGM as part of a wider clampdown on initiation ceremonies by secret societies.
From Neo.Fashion. designer profile, Damian Ohl, describes his experience in connecting with Turay and the importance of the work, “by introducing me to her job, I quickly learned that “Bondo” is much more than a bloody ceremony. The women’s connections are an important social construct that gives them stability. For this reason, the collection sheds light on the importance of secret societies.”
Ohl goes on to say, “far away from cities, outsiders – and especially men – Bondo is practiced in the hidden jungle. My personal interpretation of the stories of some members resulted in a collection that invites us “outsiders” to dive into a strange world. Every look in the collection embodies an emotion or experience that challenges our personal imagination.”
“Bondo” tells the story of girls being initiated by elder women into the adult community to serve as wives and mothers, through social education and instruction. These secret societies build social centers, however odd it may seem, as Ohl describes, to an ‘outsider’. His composition is complex, no surprise due to the nature of the subject. He has composed looks that feast on an assemblage of self-designed digital prints, contrasting fabric, colors, textures, and shapes. He expresses his body of work as, “cohesion, fun, love, vulnerability, hierarchies, etc. Hard-soft contrasts, as well as a large variety of colors and materials, reflect the complexity of the subject.” What I like most is through this collage-type juxtaposed collection is that it is uplifting, contemporary, with a sense of aspiration given the subject matter, which is the antithesis of a secret society.
“A Look at EDGE” curates a select few of Neo.Fashion.21 designers whose collections make socially relevant statements and offer storytelling through a fashion lens we don’t often see. “Bondo” matters because it unfolds a deeper conversation on “secret societies” through fashion as art, as a communicator of rights of passage practices, that today go against a modern society. Damian Ohl believes his work resulted “in an intercultural exchange in terms of design”. We should see more of this.
Feature Image: BERLIN, GERMANY – SEPTEMBER 08: A model walks the runway wearing Damian Ohl from Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin during the Neo.Fashion. Best Graduates Show at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin September 2021 at Kraftwerk Mitte on September 08, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by PR/Stefan Knauer/Getty Images for Nowadays)