Fashion and activism joined together this week as the Ames Public Library opened up an exhibition titled “Black Lives Matter: Liberation, Fashion, Fight for Freedom.”
Until Monday, the library will be displaying the exhibition in the Grand Staircase Exhibit Space.
The library recently hosted a reception that had different posters for the six curators who presented their fashion projects on the identity and appearance of movements that changed the lives of black people. Their topics shared the stories behind the movements and their own personal experiences.
Their fashion project was hosted by the Fashion and Research lab at Iowa State and the department of apparel, merchandising and hospitality. The event is part of a class called AESHM 499X: Black lives matter liberation and fashion.
"Students who enroll for the course focus on resistance movements for students of color, fashion appearance and how the body is negotiated with it. Students will develop a research question with answers and have 38-46 inch gloss posters, which will each provide an overview with text and visuals to overline their research,” said Kelly Reddy-Best, assistant professor for apparel, merchandising and design.
In this class, students are required to take part in a research project that consists of fashion, politics and activism. The idea for this course all started with undergrad research assistant Brandon Spencer, who worked with Reddy-Best and had a vision to create the course about how fashion and the black identity relates to resistance movements in society.
The six curators all had different ideas that expressed how fashion and culture relate to black political movements, personal experiences and racial discrimination.
Students at the event were able to spread knowledge to faculty, students and the Ames community by discussing the important resistance to the black community.
Many of the students discussed the murder of Trayvon Martin as a part of their project. Martin was a 17-year-old boy who wanted a bag of skittles when he got murdered by George Zimmerman in 2012. The assumption was that Zimmerman was protecting himself due to the fact that Martin had on a dark hoodie and looked suspicious. In 2013, Zimmerman was charged not guilty.
The situation with Martin was brought to the attention of social media and the black community to demand justice and to stop racial discrimination. This created the Black Lives Matter movement, which was started by Opal Tometi and Patrisee Cullors. Years later, more police brutality in the black community began to rise, and people began to create t-shirts with phrases like “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” for the killing of Michael Brown.
Curator Erika Rossow, junior in event management, went more in-depth about how the Black Lives Matter movement affects the black community’s fashion and appearance.
“There's always been a cause and effect within history, and history does repeat itself with the knowledge society has now,” Rossow said."It's time for a change through slave trade to Martin Luther King to Trayvon Martin to Mike Brown — to all of the unarmed African Americans that have been killed, it's never been more evident that it's time for a change in our nation, and the Black Lives Matter movement is doing just that, from the Jim Crow laws to Brown versus Board to [...] the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. The change we need is coming but not fast enough.”
Because of her experience dealing with a former student who did not understand the importance of Black Lives Matter, Kaila Loew, freshman in apparel, merchandising and design, decided to take matters into her own hands by discussing that a movement like Black Lives Matter is important for the black community because of the fact that the community struggles with being accepted into society.
“My research has highlighted that some students who have learned about the roots of the social movement through formal education built a critical perspective and understanding of the continued and systematic oppression that black people face and why we might need a movement such as Black Lives Matter," Loew said. "If we provide and pursue [African American] studies and incorporate them into our school curriculum, we can [work to accomplish the goals of the] Black Lives Matter movement and [lessen the] divide between [Black Lives Matter] and [All Lives Matter].”
After the Black Lives Matter's influence in fashion, the exhibition also highlighted how black women often struggle with their appearance and being a black woman on campus.
Destiny Williams, junior in apparel, merchandising and design, talked about the importance of black women’s protective hairstyles and the meaning behind black women perming and pressing their hair.
“Protective hairstyles protect black women from heat damage and manipulation to help define their natural curls," Williams said. "For a black female, getting your hair done monthly is pretty normal. They feel a connection to it and take pride, so therefore we feel vulnerable when people touch it or make bad comments."
According to Williams' presentation, black women started perming and pressing their hair in order to fit in with society’s standards of beauty in the workplace. Many black people were not allowed to wear their natural curls since they were deemed to be unprofessional. Destiny explained this best at the reception on how this is related to the Sunday Best movement.
“Martin Luther King's whole movement was Sunday Best; you're here needed to be firmed, and we often need to be as wide as possible you need to be pressing for him to be accepted and to integrate [...] that was a whole movement when civil rights first officially started is to look as white as possible, and I don't think they meant it in a bad way, I think they just wanted to integrate and they wanted the respect so bad that they're like, 'you know what, this is how it got to be a top of the beat point,'" Williams said.
Williams also shared her experience with becoming natural and embracing her natural curls since she was used to always going in the salon to get relaxers and presses. Her experience was not easy at first since it’s not what most black women are used to.
“I kind of joined it around 2016," Williams said. "I did the big chop senior year of high school where I just cut off all my hair, and I was like, 'I just need to start over here,' and I love it, I love everyone embracing their natural growth; I think black women look amazing with their natural hair.”
There were also three other curators who participated in the event: Ana Orescanin, Grace Koehler and Destinee Palimore. All three are apparel, merchandising and design students.