(ALWAYS) WEAR YOUR BEST ON SUNDAY
In this series of images, I aim to investigate the relationship between dress and worship amongst members of Walworths Methodist Church, a black majority church (BMC) attended by a largely African diaspora in South London. This body of work is a continuation of my interest in social grouping and ‘othering’ in contemporary society with a particular focus on personal appearance, identity, and visual politics within African minority communities in the United Kingdom.
PHOTOGRAPHY: ALICE MANN
This project began with an initial interest in the aesthetic of African traditional dress in London and the way that Sunday church services provided these communities with an opportunity to come together from across the capital in all their cultural finery. These Sunday services were an occasion to be celebrated for the congregants and provided a sense of pride and community that is often lacking within minority communities in the United Kingdom.
After a couple of months visiting the church and through conversation with the congregants and pastors it became apparent that the competition to look one’s best at these services was in fact integral to the entire occasion. As one pastor noted, many of the congregants associated Sunday services with looking their best and exhibiting their favorite pieces. There was always an element of performance at these services, congregants enjoyed being photographed, they were always eager to show off their latest fabrics or a trend they had picked up on. The presence of cellphones and digital cameras were ubiquitous at the services with congregants eager to present themselves to their peers in their best light.
Over time, I became aware that these elaborate outfits served a dual purpose for the congregants. On the one hand they were a visual marker, identifying them as members of the same group, linking them to their church and their broader African community. A number of congregants mentioned sourcing fabrics or dress designs on annual trips back home, or getting family and friends to send certain sought-after items to the UK. On the other hand, the outfits themselves were representative of one’s faith, they were a way for the congregants to ‘show worship’ or announce their dedication to God.