What inspires your hair style, the way you dress, or other things you wear like jewelry or accessories? How would you describe your unique style?
The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity is a multi-year collaborative folk cultural research and public presentation project initiated by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Through the work and perspectives of museum, academic, and community scholars community based cultural practitioners including artisans and designers from across the nation. This project explores the diversity of African American identities as expressed through the cultural aesthetics and traditional arts of the body, dress, and adornment. This ongoing collaborative research is shared through public programs including the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival Program.
Museum of the African Diaspora is one of five museums collaborating with the Smithsonian on the The WTA 2017 project. The MoAD, located in the Yerba Buena Arts District of San Francisco, California, is a contemporary art museum focused on the cultural expressions of the African Diaspora. MoAD’s contribution to the project is focused on African American style and dress in the Bay Area. The project was overseen by Richard Collins, MoAD’s the School & Community Outreach Coordinator. He interviewed and hand selected six talented high school students to participate in the WTA project. The MoAD WTA team spent six weeks researching black fashion subcultures, documenting artifacts of style, and connecting with Bay Area artisans of style. Through research, interviews, meeting with local designers, street photography, and field trips, the students delved into various definitions of dress, and style, and identity through the lens of Bay Area African American communities.
In order to prepare for group interviews, the students worked as a team to brainstorm and develop questions for each interviewee. During some interviews, the students had the opportunity to learn about the process that goes into the interviewees’ craftsmanship. For example, one interviewee, Julian Prince Dash, gave the students a lesson in using industrial sewing machines and clothing patterns. After the interviews, the students worked in pairs to review and edit the video footage captured by the WTA team. In addition to conducting interviews, the students visited the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, neighboring museum SFMOMA, San Francisco’s Union Square, and the Palace of Fine Arts to make public observations of African American aesthetic and to practice their photography skills. For behind the scenes footage and additional student photos please visit the gallery on this website or @will2adorn on Instagram.
This website is the culmination of six weeks of multimedia creative work, looking at the rich tapestry of African American fashion in the Bay Area, and is an important contribution to The Smithsonian Center For Folklife and Cultural Heritage’s The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity project.
MoAD School & Community Outreach Coordinator
After working for last six years as a classroom teacher in K-12 public schools, and teaching college freshman at CSU East Bay I joined the staff of MoAD in January of 2017. In addition to classroom teaching I have held many positions with San Francisco museums and cultural institutions from working as a docent, in public education, and managing visitor services. With my background in anthropology the high school and college interns and I have taken an ethnographic research approach to this project doing field studies and interviews. Having the opportunity to work with these youth on this project has allowed me to reexamine my own style and fashion choices as well as learning about what many Bay Area residents are doing currently.
I am a third year student at UC San Diego. I am studying U.S. History and Education Studies. I believe that history and fashion can be used as avenues to empower the communities to which I belong. Participating in the Will to Adorn program has taught me that identity is fluid and that personal development requires identity to shift from time to time.
I’m a senior at Quest University Canada, studying Contemporary Literature and Museum Studies. I’m originally from the Bay Area and grew up being dragged to museums in San Francisco (usually with an accompanied bribe of a sweet). Now, I’m the one dragging my family to museums. Personally, I am fascinated in fashion as a form of resistance and empowerment. Being able to explore these concepts with this group of highschoolers in the context of the MoAD has been a truly meaningful and exciting experience.
I attend Oakland Tech. I am currently a sophomore and a part of the class 2020. I chose to apply to WTA because I felt like it would be beneficial for my future and give me a lot of experience for the field that I want to be in. I was excited to be apart of WTA because I would be exploring the different pathways and avenues in the fashion industry.
My name is Nyah Ginwright and I am a senior at Oakland School for the Arts. I was born and raised in Oakland, California. I am someone who is passionate about social justice and fashion, and sometimes they intertwine. Oakland’s urban style is reflected in my art as a stylist and designer.
My name is Nyah Alexander and I am a junior at Head-Royce School. Living in the Bay Area has inspired my fashion choices and influenced me heavily. I have always loved to express myself through fashion and am still trying to discover my style as I constantly evolve as a person.
I am a senior at Berkeley High School. From my hair to my shoes, my sense of style says something about me. I’ve always loved fashion and wanted to take my love for it further. Being in the Will to Adorn program has helped me figure out how I can do that. Clothes and fashion to me is an expression of yourself without words, and that’s what intrigues me the most.
I am a junior at Arroyo High School. I am 15 years old and still trying to figure out how I fit into this world. I love styling and fashion, so the Will to Adorn program helped me understand there is so much more to learn. Fashion has and will continue to help me discover myself.
I am a senior at Marin Academy. My personal style is a crucial part in how I express myself. As I enter adulthood, I feel it’s important for me to understand what fashion means to me. The Will to Adorn program helped me explore how the intersection of my identity as a black women and fashion reflect the place I grew up in.