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How Nordstrom’s New Fashion Exhibit Elevates The Relevance and Activism of of Black Style

Historically, there’s no better encouragement for healing and empowerment than access to vaults of creativity, demonstrating cultural impact, embodied from the inspiration of notable events.

The systemic killing of George Floyd by a white cop who callously planted his knee on the neck of a Black man, desperately pleading for mercy, and calling out to his dead mother, swiftly sparked outrage that reverberated across the country and the world-at-large, with tributes of murals erected to capture another victim of white supremacy.

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Mural of George Floyd by Dominican graffiti artist Jesús Cruz Artiles. Image: Getty

It has been proven that the most trusted form of rebellion against criminal establishments with tainted legacies of hate and oppression is through creative expression, and those traditions are embedded in the often times poached aesthetic of Black beauty and style.

But thankfully, through the endearing efforts of talented Black curators, who excel at propelling the language of artistic indulgence with reinforcements that convey heightened themes of each time period, we can find respite in amplified collaborations that do a lot more than hang pretty.

So, if you’re looking for an accessible and non-traditional tour of explorative themes, manifested with innovative tools of artful activism, that accommodates the reality of this pandemic, head over to Nordstrom NYC, for the ambitious installation: Styling: Black Expression, Rebellion, and Joy Through Fashion.

The exhibit will be available for viewing until October 29, 2020.

You can also help support the featured artists by purchasing their work on virtual display at Artsy.

The exhibition features an impressive list of revered Black artists, including, Willie Cole, and specially commissioned works by Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola, Dianne Smith, and Ricky TheJones of AfrolipglossOriginals.

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Ricky TheJones of AfrolipglossOriginals.

Each of them have contributed to this activated landscape, that’s been described as a “sartorial escapade through the multifaceted representations of contemporary Black style and their cultural significance.”

And to further elaborate on the mission statement of this heralded venture, we spoke to Souleo, the events organizer, who joined forces with Long Gallery Harlem to celebrate and highlight the “exploration of of style within Black culture as a historical form of creative expression; rebellion against oppression; and source of joy.”

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Souleo (Button Vest by Beau McCall, Ropo Dress by Busayo Olupona)

Souleo, a proud Harlemite, is well-known for curating “events, exhibitions, and cultural programs” that broaden horizons with informative flair that illuminates the range of profound themes. Souleo has worked with influential brands like the New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Columbia University, Columbia University and Newark Museum of Art among others. Souleo’s varied portfolio has been spotlighted by the Associated Press, NY Times, and The New Yorker to name a few.

Q: What was the motivation behind the exhibition and what are you hoping to convey with the relevant themes embedded in the messaging, especially in this climate?

Souleo: When Lewis Long, founder of Long Gallery Harlem, approached me to curate the exhibition we discussed wanting to ensure that artists were given a platform to increase visibility as well as helping to provide economic opportunities. So we were very intentional about creating a framework that would help them generate sales through our partnership with Artsy, setting up a pop-up shop where they could sell their creations inside Nordstrom, and providing honorariums for their participation in the show. It is a difficult financial time for so many creatives and helping to support them in this way was a major motivating factor.

In terms of my curatorial vision, the motivation was to ensure that our stories as Black people were represented. I didn’t want to shy away from addressing the current political climate and calls for social justice. That’s why we have several works that reference the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of other important movements. But I also wanted to do so in a way that balanced that part of the conversation with the flipside of our experience which is expression and joy. Our style has influenced countless cultures and generations and is frequently appropriated by the mainstream. So it was very important to celebrate the diversity and beauty within Black style that gives us a sense of freedom and happiness.

We also had the pleasure of getting more insight from some of the artists, who participated in the project, and generously share their motivations and expectations for this Black cultural movement.

Beau McCall, a creative artist based in Harlem has real love for the “visual language of buttons” and expresses it with his whimsical interpretations, that are meant to “stimulate the imagination and unbutton one’s inner thoughts surrounding themes from pop culture to social justice.”

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Beau McCall

When asked about how his artistic background informed choices for his translation of what the exhibition dictates, he explains:

With the inclusion of my Triple T-shirts I wanted to address the current state of affairs in this country as far as racism is concerned. I wanted to use fashion to make a bold statement using a universal piece of fashion which is the t-shirt. My Triple T-shirts are walking billboards. When you can’t speak, the shirt speaks for you and what you represent.

Felicia Megan Gordon, (genius editor of one of Medium’s earliest publications) and founder of Sugar Hill Culture Club, a creative hub that encompasses key elements of photography, film, music videos and publishing through the network of artists based in her haven of Harlem to the streets of Berlin, provides her thoughts on what drew her to another collaboration with Souleo, and the impact this exhibit will have, especially in this porous climate:

I would be a part of anything Souleo curates, no questions asked. Second, I was so excited to have my photograph contextualized in fashion. My dream had always been for curators to understand the photographs in that context. After all, my subject is a fashion designer who makes stunning couture-level garments and the way I photographed him was certainly influenced by the images I grew up seeing both on the streets of New York but also in New York’s prominent fashion mags. I’m also super excited to be featured alongside so such beautiful, colorful, vibrant art!

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Ruben Natal San Miguel and Felicia Megan Gordon

I mean, let’s face it, this isn’t the happiest of times for most New Yorkers for many reasons. The changes that have gone on in this City recently have been extreme (and not great) for most of its residents and businesses. This City has become increasingly racially and socioeconomically divided without question. Some might even call it kind of boring, compared to its former self. This show is anything but. It offers collectivity, energy, brightness, happiness, love and hope. If anything, it’s an antidote to what most of us see and hear everyday here. I encourage everyone to consume the joy that is this exhibit. Kudos to Nordstrom and the Long Gallery for supporting this incredibly vital vision of Black fashion through art.

Brooklyn-based, Nigerian designer, Busayo Olupona, of Busayo NYC, developed her brand out of the desire to continue the process of authenticating her birthright through the belief of how color can be used “to communicate the dynamism, personality and nuances of the individual.”

Growing up in Nigeria informs her passion “to explore traditions and the ways in which our past traditions inform the present.”

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Busayo Olupona

We asked Busayo about her inclusion in the Nordstrom exhibit, and how she views its longterm effects on the culture:

I am so excited to be a part of Styling for a number of reasons, Black people are the flyest people I know, and clothing is such a part of our culture/identity and self expression. I love Souleo’s aesthetic and knew that he would create something beautiful and powerful. I really approach my work from a place of joy and want to create textiles that engender joy in its wearer. All of our fabrics are created in a tradition called Adire, which relies on specific African textiles technologies to create the textile and the work. I hope that those that engage with the work, are inspired to expand the possibilities of their sartorial choices, and are affirmed in their own presentation and learn more about Adire and traditional African textiles.

Here’s the complete list of Black creatives beautifully represented in Styling: Black Expression, Rebellion, and Joy Through Fashion:

Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola, Elan Cadiz, Willie Cole, EPPERSON, Felicia Megan Gordon, Gregory Gray, Hollis King, Beau McCall, Ruben Natal-San Miguel, Busayo Olupona, Yelaine Rodriguez, Dianne Smith, Stephen Tayo, Ricky TheJones of AfrolipglossOriginals, and Margaret Rose Vendryes

For those interested in stopping by the exhibition, you will be happy to know that admission is free, and again, it will be available until October 29, 2020.

For more information, head over to STYLINGBLK.com.

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Written by

Juggling Wordsmith. I have a lot to say! https://medium.com/membership https://www.patreon.com/Ezziegirl

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