Curating a fashion exhibition centred on Black women: Combatting individual and systemic oppression at land-grant university fashion museums | Intellect Skip to content
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Curatorial Reflections
  • ISSN: 2040-4417
  • E-ISSN: 2040-4425

Abstract

In 2020, we curated and mounted an exhibition at the Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum that centred Black women college students’ fashion. We explored how our participants negotiated their Black and activist identities through dress while on a predominately white campus and surrounding community in the Midwestern United States. In this article, we critically analyse how we, as curators, confronted and rejected white supremacy and were compelled to provide additional labour while curating due to systemic racism. Throughout the curation and installation processes, we challenged numerous forms of oppression, for example: a lack of collected objects representing Black women’s dress practices; assumptions that Black women engage in illegal activities; a dearth of dress forms coordinating with black and brown skin tones. The supplementary work, which included additional time, financial resources, intellectual and emotional labour, is one way that compulsory whiteness is upheld in fashion museums. Curators who engage in social justice initiatives are disadvantaged by ongoing institutional racism, which is prevalent in a plethora of universities in the United States; the focus of this article is predominately white, land-grant institutions. We acknowledge that structural inequities museum curators contend with when claiming space for marginalized identities are prevalent, but can be overcome, despite the hegemony of the silencing and oppression of Black people. We call for a radical shift in fashion museums and curricula.

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2022-06-01
2024-02-22
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