February is Black History Month, and Iowa State’s Textiles and Clothing Museum is putting on an exhibition.
The exhibition “Collegiate Fashion & Activism: Black Women’s Styles on the College Campus” will be on display from Feb. 3 to April 17 in the Mary Alice Gallery in 1015 Morrill Hall.
“In ‘Collegiate Fashion & Activism: Black Women’s Styles on the College Campus,’ we analyze the ways black women college students attending predominately white institutions in Iowa express their black identity, activism and expressions of empowerment through fashion,” according to the Facebook event page. “We focus on the use of black women’s everyday clothing and its connection to black student empowerment on the college campus, both historically and today. We use counter-story telling to create a space for black women’s voices, fashions, and styles.”
The exhibition analyzes the ways 21st century black women college students attending predominately white institutions in Iowa express their black identity, activism and expressions of empowerment through fashion. The focus is on black women’s everyday clothing and its connection to black student empowerment on Iowa college campuses.
The curators developed the exhibition using a community-participatory approach. Fifteen black women college students who are currently attending predominately white institutions in Iowa were recruited to share stories through an in-depth interview about their fashion and style.
These same women loaned garments or accessories for display in the exhibition and shared images they felt represented pride in their black identity. Thirteen of these images are featured on the walls of the gallery.
"Through 11 themes, the curators explore the ways black women represent themselves through everyday fashions in predominately white spaces within the highly turbulent, current social climate," according to the Department of Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management website.
The 11 themes include Messages of Strength, 90s Throwback, Matriarch, Self-Created Expression, Pride in Skin Tone, Cause Solidarity, Connection to Roots, Fearless Expression, Yes I Can, Powerful Words and Black Girl Accessories.
In "Messages of Strength," the curators shopped at black-owned businesses and advocated for black people in positions of power.
The section "90s Throwback" explores the nostalgic style of popular 1990s television shows featuring all black casts.
"Matriarch" focuses on the strong black woman leader of the black family, in this case, the grandmother.
The section "Self-Created Expression" represents designs created by black women that overtly express their black or activist identities.
In "Pride in Skin Tone," the curators represent the ways that black women embrace their darker skin tone when wearing brighter colored garments.
"Cause Solidarity" represents black women advocating for various social justice issues, including the Flint water crisis and women’s rights.
"Connection to Roots" represents the black woman’s desire for connection to their ancestors in Africa.
In "Fearless Expression," the garments represent the ways black women fearlessly express who they are through dress, despite being in predominately white spaces.
"Yes, I Can" explores the experiences of a black woman in not only a predominantly white space but a predominantly male space as an engineering student.
The section "Powerful Words" represents the use of slogan T-shirts to share messages of the rejection of social injustices.
"Black Girl Accessories" highlights different types of accessories that overtly express black identity.
Besides the overall exhibition, there is also an official opening reception of the exhibit from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 in 2019 Morrill Hall.
The exhibition was curated by Dyese Matthews, graduate student in the apparel, merchandising and design program and Kelly Reddy-Best, assistant professor in the apparel, merchandising and design program.