What does it mean to see blackness out of context? What happens when we question
the very context itself? In Soji Solarin’s ‘Negro Cowboy’ collection, the designer
interrogates and deconstructs the boundaries society draws around identity. The words
‘black’ and ‘cowboy’ seem, at first, inconsistent. Most of us haven’t seen one.
The image of the black cowboy has been herded away from an African American
narrative, meaning that this image is beyond the imagination of many. Solarin’s work
not only pieces together the fabric of an ignored history, but projects this history into
the current day.
In the short menswear collection, Solarin captures the everyday reality of life as a
young black cowboy. Picture him, he’s young, he evades categorization, he is. He is
not statement, he is fact. The collection fuses this fact with imaginative possibility. The
traditional ‘cowboy’ is embodied differently, forcing us to ask questions of our
assumptions. Soji Solarin adopts the traditional iconography of the cowboy, and
repurposes it, his chaps are of denim not leather. They are worn, they are used, always
with swagger.
Soji Solarin was born in Nigeria, and moved to the U.S. in his early teens. These
experiences offered him the understanding of the differing iterations of blackness in
both the contexts of Africa and America. Currently in Berlin, Solarin has taken the
opportunity to explore this: “Berlin is a city that just is, rather than does. I think that this
feeds into my work a lot” The being, as opposed to doing is something we see
reflected in the designer’s work. Having experienced a number of contexts, Solarin’s
work speaks to the malleability of black being. Not as statement; as fact. Facts we see
printed playfully on his ‘Negro Cowboy’ T-shirts.
The collection asks questions which are often overlooked. Who are we ignoring and
what are we assuming? Which categories have been denied their blackness, and how
do we unearth them? The ‘Negro Cowboy’ collection, in the fact of its very existence,
invites answers.