Dress, Identity and Community

UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures Partners with Smithsonian on ‘The Will to Adorn’
 

(SAN ANTONIO) – After a productive summer internship and pilot program, the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will continue its participation in "The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity," a collaborative initiative with Smithsonian Affiliations, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Smithsonian Learning Lab.

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures began its work on "The Will to Adorn" as a summer internship for high schoolers, and now the project will produce a tangible result: a student exhibit at the ITC, opening Dec. 16.

The local project explored the world of barber shops and hair salons and the role they play in the African American Community. In addition to various presentations and interviews over the course of the project, they visited two barber shops and one African Braiding and Weaving salon. The research, interviews, photos and video will serve as the basis for the exhibit.

"The Will to Adorn" explores the diversity of the African-American experience through the cultural aesthetics of dress and adornment. Using study and fieldwork guides developed by Smithsonian experts and Learning Lab educators, the youth curators first expressed their own sense of style by producing a digital online exhibition on the official "The Will to Adorn" website and app.

The original project connected the youth curators with local designers, milliners, hairdressers, haberdashers and others who exemplify the community ideals of style as an art form.
 
"Our summer high school interns at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures explored their own sense of style and how it intertwines with cultural influences," said education specialist Melanie Schwebke, who oversaw the project at the institute. "They focused on the African American community and captured stories with skilled artisans. We had a lot of applicants for the program, attracted by the idea of learning about new cultures, fashions and styles. We extended our work into the fall, and created this opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned."

Developed by Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Curator, Cultural Anthropologist, and Visual Artist Dr. Diana Baird N’Diaye, "The Will to Adorn" looks at wearable art traditions of African Americans from diverse regional, ethnic, occupational, faith, and ideology-based communities.  The project uses the lens of dress as an expression of individual and group identities and also looks at how cultural markers can tie individuals to their communities.

"Smithsonian Affiliates are playing a major role in this research project by engaging youth curators from under-resourced communities to give voice to their sartorial identities and to share those voices to promote cultural awareness and understanding," said Dr. Baird N’Diaye.

Five museums and organizations are participating in this collaborative initiative as hosts and coordinators for the student projects. The Smithsonian Affiliate organizations include the Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA); Michigan State

University Museum (East Lansing, MI); the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (San Antonio, TX); and the DuSable Museum of African American History (Chicago, IL).  Also joining the project is MindBuilders (Bronx, NY).
 
The "Will to Adorn" is funded by the Smithsonian Institution's Youth Access Grants program awarded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Education and Access. The project is led by the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, in partnership with Smithsonian Affiliations.
 
About the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures
The Institute of Texan Cultures gives voice to the experiences of people from across the globe who call Texas home, providing insight into our past, present, and future. An agency of the Vice President for Community Services at The University of Texas at San Antonio and a Smithsonian Affiliate, the 182,000 square foot complex, featuring 45,000 square feet of exhibit space and five re-creation Texas Frontier period structures, is located on the UTSA Hemisfair Campus in downtown San Antonio.  Resources for multiple audiences are available at TexanCultures.com

About Smithsonian Affiliations
Smithsonian Affiliations is a national outreach program that develops long-term collaborative partnerships with museums, educational and cultural organizations to enrich communities with Smithsonian resources.  There are more than 210 Smithsonian Affiliates in 46 states, Puerto Rico, and Panama. More information is available at affiliations.si.edu.

About the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
The Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage promotes the understanding and sustainability of cultural heritage and diversity across the United States and around the world. The Center produces the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, is the home of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, maintains and makes accessible the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, shares extensive research and educational materials and produces cultural heritage policy for the benefit of communities around the world. For more information, visit folklife.si.edu.

About Smithsonian Learning Lab
The Smithsonian Learning Lab is an engaging digital destination for teachers, students and lifelong learners to discover authentic resources, create personalized learning experiences and share their creativity and knowledge with others. More information is available at learninglab.si.edu.

 
 

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