Tag Archives: exhibit

EXHIBITION: Tattered and Torn

Here are some photos from a really wonderful exhibit I just saw at Governors Island called “Tattered and Torn: On the Road to Deaccession”. The dresses on display here are being “deaccessioned” (removed from museum collections) because they’ve been deemed too damaged to display. What’s ironic but probably not too surprising is that their compromised condition actually enhances their value as sites of critical engagement.

As museum discards, they no longer warrant the kinds of conservation measures and security that high art objects receive. There was no glass, velvet rope, or electric fence separating the viewer from the object. The result is that visitors can get very close to the displays – many were touching them – as well as walk all the way around them, seeing and engaging with them from all sides. From a curatorial standpoint, the exhibit opened up tremendous opportunities for creative display. Some clothes were simply hung on hangers in open closets and others were displayed in domestic settings like the kitchen, bedroom, hallway, etc. Whatever the reason for the institutional neglect of these couture gowns, this neglect conditioned the possibility for their exhibition in a non-traditional museum space where they could be brought back to life and really appreciated – close up.

There wasn’t a whole lot of information about where these gowns came from or why they had been so neglected but I couldn’t help comparing this collection of abandoned clothes with the kinds of clothes that are so prevalent in Of Another Fashion. The organizational structures of museums (from the public arrangement of displays to the behind-the-scenes preservation of the objects) reflect and reproduce a dominant value system about what objects are beautiful, valuable, and worth protecting. But if clothing functions as a material sign of social status and a site of knowledge production about the meanings of beauty, value, and worth, then the choice of which clothes are worth saving and studying is also a decision about what kinds of lives are valuable and worth remembering. I’ve often described Of Another Fashion, borrowing the words of Verne Harris, as “a site of oppositional memory . . . against systematic forgetting” – I think “Tattered and Torn” is created in this spirit as well.

If you’re in the area between now and September 30, I’d really recommend visiting Governors Island for this exhibit.

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American Beauty, Of Another Fashion

Read the amazing story behind this and many other photographs at Of Another Fashion

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thread for Thought‘s latest post on the difficulty of defining “American fashion”. Of course, the ways in which the normative relations between fashion, beauty, and nationalism are articulated through racial, gender, and class terms are frequent topics on Threadbared. But what especially struck me about Thread for Thought’s post was that it calls attention to the very problem that sparked the initial idea for Of Another Fashion.

Last June, I wrote a post introducing the idea for a different kind of fashion exhibition, one that explores not only the fashion histories of women of color but also the curatorial and critical neglect of these histories. The response to this exhibition has been overwhelming and gratifying. Moreover, what I’ve learned in the last six months about what it takes to curate even a modest-sized exhibition is mind-blowing.

Set aside for a minute the amount of funding and organization such an exhibition demands (this, I expected, thanks to Sarah Scaturro‘s patient counsel). More challenging and, well, eye-opening is the unintended consequences of the neglect of minoritized fashion histories. I’ve received so many emails from people telling me about objects that would have been perfect for the exhibition but they no longer know where these items are. Many family photographs are torn, bent, or sun- or water-damaged. I’ve been able to digitally correct a few but many are too compromised to fix. In an attempt to provide a glimpse of the fashionable worlds of women of color historically, I’ve also collected various kinds of media images in local magazines and newspapers. Again, because many of these publications do not have the bold faced names of Vogue or the New York Times, they haven’t been safely preserved in carefully ventilated special collections (in which white gloves must also be worn) and so they too are difficult to digitally reproduce in high resolution and thus impossible to enlarge for display.  Those who still possess the sartorial ephemera of their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers wanted to share their stories with me but were very nervous – understandably – about parting with them even temporarily for the duration of the exhibition. [And by the way, as I’ve noted on the original announcement and call for contributions, we ask that you first email a photograph of your contribution (be it a family photo, vintage ads, packaging, garments, or accessories).]

Ironically, the difficulty of finding and acquiring objects for this exhibition only underscores for me how much we need this exhibition and others like it. And not just exhibitions but books, articles, lectures, and, yes, blogs and websites too. While I continue to work on securing funding and materials for the kind of exhibition these incredible social and sartorial histories deserve, I also created a digital archive of the visual and textual materials related to the exhibition. Unfortunately, many of these items can only be viewed online because, again, their fragile condition doesn’t allow them to be enlarged or displayed physically. Still, I hope this digital archive will function as a virtual and conservational space where they might be viewed, studied, and of course appreciated.

I’ve just begun to add images to Of Another Fashion – 16, so far. I have at least another 50 more images to go. I think what you’ll find are vibrant, complex, and touching images and stories of histories that, though not quite hidden, have too long been ignored. If you want to contribute to the recovery of these histories and the reimagining of the very meanings, images, and bodies that constitute “American fashion,” please get in touch! Information about contributing can be found here and here.

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EXHIBITION ANNOUNCEMENT: Of Another Fashion: Claiming America through Dress 

At the end of a previous post about the Black Fashion Museum, I hinted about curating a different kind of fashion exhibition, one that explores the fashion histories of women of color and in relation to women of color. (See too Mimi’s amazing posts categorized under “Vintage Politics”!) Since then, I’ve been working on making this exhibition a real thing (with great help from the amazing Sarah Scaturro, a Threadbared reader and textile conservator who also blogs at Exhibiting Fashion). We have a long way to go before realizing this much-needed and groundbreaking exhibition but nonetheless, I’m over the moon about finally being able to announce the project!

Howard University flappers at a football game, 1920s

The description of the project is below as well as a call for donations to the exhibition. Please forward or link this to any group or individual you think might have objects that would enhance this exhibition. And to our blogger friends, please consider cross-posting or linking to this post on your blogs. (Thank you, Jezebel for syndicating this announcement!) We will continue to shape the direction of the exhibition as we collect pieces so donors will play a key role in its conceptualization.

By the way, the images you see here are just some of the really cool visual and textual sartorial ephemera I’ve already found! Want to see more? Go to the top right corner of this page (right below our header) and click on How to Contribute to “Of Another Fashion“. Be part of this amazing exhibition!

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Of Another Fashion: Claiming America through Dress

So much of the African American experience is stashed in basements and attics. So writes fashion journalist Robin Givhan in her recent article about the Black Fashion Museum Collection’s move to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. For Givhan, the new home of this “treasure-trove of garments designed and worn by African Americans over the course of generations” at the Smithsonian Institution secures the preservation of a “hidden history . . . in danger of being washed away by the enormity of another Katrina or even a trifling family rift.”

Of Another Fashion seeks to find these hidden histories stashed in the basements and attics, in the backs of closets, and in lesser-known personal and institutional archives of and about women of color. These histories are not only kept hidden due to the informal and often inadequate practices of preservation by ordinary people; instead, it is the official cultural archives such as museums and libraries that have played a significant and profound role in keeping hidden the sartorial histories of racially minoritized women.

Recent fashion exhibitions in New York City have included “Night and Day” and “Fashion and Politics” (both at the Museum at FIT); “American Woman, Fashioning a National Identity” (Costume Institute); and “American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection” (Brooklyn Museum). While these exhibitions focus on the convergence of fashion, nationalism, and collective memory, their emphases on formal politics, designer fashion, and eveningwear implicitly privilege dominant styles of dress and womanhood and tacitly inscribe Americanness with bourgeois white femininity. If racial, gender, sexual, class, and language barriers have historically shaped and limited the achievements and life chances of non-White and working women, then traditional museum exhibitions that emphasize the styles of bourgeois white womanhood to the exclusion of Other women collude in the ongoing marginalization and erasure of the lives and material cultural histories of minoritized American women.

Dancers from San Francisco nightclub Forbidden City, backstage 1950

Of Another Fashion is a critical intervention into traditional understandings of fashion history, histories of “American” womanhood, and official memory practices. The exhibition seeks to critically explore the creative, cultural and political ways in which racially minoritized women in the U.S. have employed practices of dress and beauty to claim Americanness. Through highlighting garments, accessories, photographs, videos and texts, Of Another Fashion does more than rediscover a hidden past; this groundbreaking exhibition reimagines our understanding of and relationship to the past. In providing a glimpse of the sartorial ephemera of women of color’s material cultural histories, this exhibition commemorates lives and experiences too often considered not important enough to save or to study.

** Contributing to the Exhibition **

We are looking for donations that will enhance the breadth and depth of this exhibition. Items we are interested include, but are not limited to:

  • Handmade, store-bought, or altered garments and accessories. Please note that garments do not need to be in perfect condition. The life of the garment is important to us!
  • Family or vintage photographs featuring women of color in fashionable looks
  • Newspaper and magazine articles and advertisements targeting women of color. Original prints are useful.
  • Other sartorial ephemera, such as accessories, packaging, cosmetics etc.

Please provide as much information as possible about the objects—for example, who made or designed them, who wore them, where they were used and how and why they were passed down to you. It is especially helpful if you send photographs of the pieces for consideration since we cannot accept all the objects offered to the collection.

The goal of this exhibition is to honor the life and memories of your treasures. Our fashion and textiles museum expert will make sure your items are well cared for and returned to you in as good or, when possible, better condition. The condition of your garment will determine the method of display—we will not display or store your objects in a manner that can cause further harm. You will be listed as a donor and items will be returned to you or otherwise disposed of in accordance with the donor’s wishes.

If you have or know of material, visual, and textual objects that you believe we should consider, please contact us at threadbared.75@gmail.com. (Include “Of Another Fashion” in the subject line.)

Costs, in time and materials, for shipping and storing items are quite substantial. Our museum expert estimates that each object will require approximately $100 to appropriately store each object (shipping and display costs excluded). We would greatly appreciate your help toward meeting these expenses and hope that you will accompany your gift with some of the funds necessary to help us preserve it.

"Short Cut to Glamor" (about correcting the "chunky" Japanese American female body with a cute haircut) from the post-WWII Japanese American magazine, "Scene: The Pictorial Magazine" (April 1950).

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EXHIBIT: Dress Codes: Clothing as Metaphor

There’s an interesting exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art (NY) called Dress Codes: Clothing as Metaphor. From the website: “The 36 artists in Dress Codes use clothing to explore a variety of issues ranging from feminine concern, racial stereotyping, and immigration to globalization, current events, and the violence of war. Many of the works explore a number of these subjects concurrently, reflecting the complexity of contemporary life.”

There’s also a short article on the exhibit in the Huffington Post. According to Barbara Bloemik: “In a world in which airplanes become bombs, and birds carry deadly diseases across oceans, very little can be taken for granted. In this environment, the artists in Dress Codes understand the need to move beyond personal identities and temporal political concerns. By using clothing — something we all choose every day — as their medium, they share a collective interest in bringing a greater awareness of the issues that affect our planet into our everyday lives.”

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EXHIBIT: Fashion & Politics


This is just straight lifted from the museum’s description:

Fashion & Politics
July 7, 2009 – November 7, 2009

The Museum at FIT presents Fashion & Politics, a chronological exploration of over 200 years of politics as expressed through fashion. The term politics not only refers to the maneuverings of government, but also encompasses cultural change, sexual codes, and social progress. Throughout history, fashion has been a medium for conveying political ideologies and related social values. Fashion has addressed such important themes as nationalism, feminism and ethnic identity, as well as significant events and subcultural movements.

Featuring over one hundred costumes, textiles and accessories, Fashion & Politics examines the rich history of politics in fashion. The exhibition’s introductory gallery will explore the theme of American nationalism and will feature a woman’s costume, circa 1889, printed with an American flag motif, as well as Catherine Malandrino’s iconic Flag Dress, worn by numerous celebrities and socialites to express patriotism after 9/11, and then again in response to the 2008 elections. Also featured will be an “IKE” dress from the 1956 Eisenhower Campaign, a “NIXON” paper dress, and memorabilia from the historic 2008 presidential elections.

Image from the Museum at FIT: “American Flag” costume, USA, circa 1889, Printed cotton, Gift of Stephen de Pietri, 88.125.1

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EXHIBIT: Party Time with Yinka Shonibare

Lucky for those of you in Jersey! On July 1, the Newark Museum will present a major site-specific installation by the acclaimed British artist Yinka Shonibare MBE called Party Time: Re-Imagine America to commemorate the museum’s centennial. From Allison McCartney for the Newark Museum:

For the Newark Museum commission, Shonibare chose as his setting the mahogany-paneled dining room of the Ballantine House, built in 1885 for the prominent Newark brewing family, Jeannette and John Holme Ballantine, and part of the Newark Museum’s campus since 1937. In this opulent interior, the artist has staged an imagined scene of a late 19th century dinner party midway through a multi-course feast.

Eight headless figures, dressed in period costume made from the artist’s signature “Dutch wax” fabric, are seated around an elaborately set table as a servant appears bearing the main course, a large peacock served on a silver platter. The animated body language of the guests suggests a moment in which proper Victorian etiquette has begun to disintegrate, as an indulgent celebration of prosperity tips towards misbehavior and even debauchery. The scene references the rise of wealth and quest for refinement that accompanied industrialization in the United States, where the elaborate dinner party replaced the bare-minimum meal, becoming a celebratory “eating fest” for the social and economic ruling class.

Party Time is one of the Shonibare’s most important works to date, reflecting the culmination of major themes that the artist has explored in his work for over a decade,” observes Christa Clarke, the curator of Party Time and the Museum’s Curator of the Arts of Africa and Senior Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Americas. “At its core, the installation considers the discrepancies of wealth generated by late-nineteenth-century enterprise, in which the material excesses and self-indulgence of a privileged few were made possible by the labor of others. His references to the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth in late 19th century America seem particularly relevant at this moment in time in the wake of our current economic collapse as a result of out-of-control spending.”

For those who are interested, on June 30, curator Christa Clarke will engage Shonibare in a dialogue about the artistic process in developing Party Time and how this major sculptural installation relates to his larger body of work. The 7 pm discussion will be preceded by a reception in the Museum’s Engelhard Court beginning at 6 pm, during which you will be able to preview the installation. The event is free and pre-registration is required.

While best experienced in person — it’s difficult to otherwise replicate the sensation of being drawn into the sensuous richness of his bright fabrics, while being distracted by the headless mannequins’ arrested gestures of promised violence– his tableaus presenting the perversions of colonialism are gorgeous and disturbing in any medium. For additional reading and viewing of his works, check out a great overview of Shonibare’s 2008 exhibition at the James Cohan Gallery (NYC) called The Age of Reason, as well as his 2005 interview with BOMB Magazine. You can also watch and/or listen to him talk about his work at the Tate in 2004, and hell, read this just-published essay about him at TIME.

From the installation Gallantry and Criminal Conversation, 2002

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Queer + Fashion

Some weeks ago, my brilliant sister-friend Iraya Robles (formerly of San Francisco’s queercore outfit Sta-Prest) told me about a performance she wanted to put together about Tina Chow, the iconic mixed-race model and socialite who died in 1992 from AIDS-related complications. Iraya wants to bring Chow’s couture collecting and connoisseurship to some of her own concerns about the psychological processes of collecting –picking and choosing, or even sometimes hoarding– and how these might relate to outsider status. I can’t do the project justice (and I should probably talk to her about it to be sure I got it right!), but it did send me on a quest to find some new sources of queer + fashion inspiration.

Now, I can enumerate academic sources at length, but what about the fashion blog-o-sphere?

Luckily, I just stumbled across What’s Her Tights, a newish blog (that somehow manages to post much more often than ours!) dedicated to “Queer Fashion, Radical Politics.” Hers is some serious whip-smartness, with posts about the gendering of our technologies (cell phones, et cetera); disappointing drag king performances; immigrants and the informal dress codes that signal assimilation or its absence (something Minh-ha and I have discussed in terms of the so-called, and somehow understood-as-self-evident, “fresh off the boat” aesthetic); how superstar MIA’s clothing becomes “style” (instead of “trash”) after her fame; and a really pointed set of questions about how charity clothing donation creates and circulate certain sorts of feelings (delight in another’s reuse of an item that might also, and problematically, assume gratitude on the part of those “less fortunate”) that need to be unpacked; and much, much more. I hope she doesn’t mind that I want showcase a bit of her genius here with this excerpt from an entry about the hipster accessory, the cowboy boot:

There is so much I just don’t know about this country-singer-turned-ironic-hipster fashion footwear. The transformations in cowboy boot design—the array of pointed toes, evolution of steel inserts, and varied shaft height—are all masked and narrated (especially if you look up cowboy boots on wikipedia) as practical accommodations for horseback riding and improving riding maneuvers in general. But what pop sources won’t tell you is that these shifts in design also had to do with facilitating the larger project of white supremacy and coercion, in essence making it easier to injure “Indians” through physical combat. This footwear has roots in something so unmistakably violent (not only toward the animals of which they’re made)… a real piece of Americana. And that’s a fact. Or a hoax. There can only be two “choices” right? 

Also, I totally get her little opening post about the Milwaukee mullet (“mom or lesbian, or maybe both?”). Shhhh, I’m hoping that we can be fashion blog friends!

For those of you in the Bay Area, the 2009 National Queer Arts Festival includes an exhibition called Threads, housed at SOMArts from June 7-26 (here’s the information for the opening reception). There doesn’t seem to be much information about the exhibition , but for this brief and somewhat vague blurb from the reception announcement:

Threads is not just about fabric and costume but also how queerness weaves the threads of our physical, social and moral existence together into a multi-dimensional fabric of community and our selves. What are the threads that bind, mend and sometimes unravel this spectacular fabric? How do we fashion, perform, subvert or display queerness in our art and lives?
 

I desperately wish I could be there for Laye(red), a performance by Thisway/Thatway (a.k.a. Stephanie Cooper), which explores the work of fashion in fundraising, and “conscientious” consumption as a human rights instrument, as practiced by the GAP (red) campaign. While focusing (it seems) on the “pop-cultural appropriation of blackness for profit,” I’m hoping this performance also queries the idea of “Africa” circulating throughout such campaigns as a “dark continent,” which is so incredibly critical for how we understand the place of “Africa” (and I put that in scare quotes on purpose) in global discourses of sex and development, disease vectors and health initiatives. I mean, “AIDS in Africa,” both as an epidemiological crisis and as a humanitarian campaign, signifies certain colonial and imperial notions that require careful untangling.

The Gap (PRODUCT) RED campaign is a collaborative effort between celebrities, multilateral organizations, and Gap Inc. Half of the proceeds from signature items will become charitable contributions to “help eliminate AIDS in Africa.” In this cultural moment where Gwyneth Paltrow declares, “I am African,” and Bono advises we, “Shop ’til it stops,” Laye(red) takes on this pop-cultural appropriation of blackness for profit. 

I wonder if there’ll be video of this performance? I feel I could teach this in at least two courses (Politics of Fashion and Transnational Feminist Studies)!

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