The Will to Adorn
African American Diversity, Style, and Identity
WHAT IS AFRICAN AMERICAN ABOUT AFRICAN AMERICAN DRESS AND BODY ART AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
African American traditions of dress and body adornment are creative expressions grounded in the history of African-descended populations in the United States. They have been shaped by the identities born of African heritage and continuities; legacies of slavery and resistance; encounters and alliances between the people of African descent, indigenous Americans, Europeans, and more recent African and Caribbean diasporas; the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements; group commitments to faith; and the politics of gender. They reveal continuities of ideas, values, skills, and knowledge rooted on the African continent and in the American experience.
Communities of African descendants in the United States are diverse. There is no one way to be “authentically” African American. African Americans “belong” to many communities variously defined by ethnic, class, gender, regional, religious, political, cultural, and other affiliations that exist in complex interrelationship with each other. Accordingly, there is no single African American aesthetic of dress; there are many aesthetics that at times overlap, intertwine, and are juxtaposed in visual dialogues defining difference. Just as the changing demographics of the United States as a nation calls for a broader definition of who is representative of America, the diversity of American African descendants also demands recognition and acknowledgement.
The Will to Adorn program at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program will showcase the distinctive ways in which diverse African American identities are expressed through attire and adornment and the traditions, artistry, and social histories that have shaped these expressions. The Festival program will feature demonstrations and workshops by artisans, such as milliners, hairdressers, jewelers, tailors, and ceremonial regalia makers. It will also present performances by exemplars of style such as musicians, dancers, activists, poets, athletes, and others. Hands-on activities—which feature try-on sessions, interactive workshops, and craft making—are designed to place a premium on visitor participation and are oriented to families.
The Festival program is an outgrowth of a larger research project, The Will to Adorn: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity. Initiated in 2010, this project is built upon collaboration among museum, community, and academic-based researchers, educators, and cultural practitioners. Click on the link above to learn more.
The Will to Adorn Festival program will reveal how African American style is as local as the barbershop on the corner and as global as the powerful influence of hip hop dress culture among young people in Japan, Australia, Great Britain, South Africa and elsewhere around the world. It will represent the complexity and diversity of African American identity and creativity. And it will highlight those approaches, processes, and discrete elements of dress and adornment among African Americans that grow out of shared or common cultural experiences, traditions, and social histories.
The Will to Adorn: African American Diversity, Style, and Identity Festival program is produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture.