Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
Costume designer Ruth Carter has brought memorably bold and colorful looks to the screen for decades. Carter earned her first credit on Spike Lee’s School Daze in 1988 and has gone on to have a long working relationship with the director. In 2019, she made history as the first Black designer to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, for her work on Black Panther. From indie films to Marvel blockbusters, Carter’s work is now the subject of a well-deserved exhibit, Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design, now on view at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film through September 21, 2021.
Bringing together more than 60 costumes from Carter’s career, along with sketches and ephemera, the exhibition also features artwork by Brandon Sadler, a SCAD alum whose murals were featured in Black Panther. Costume exhibits are reliably popular, often attracting a broader audience than the typical museum show, and were it not for the pandemic, the Marvel connection would be sure to bring in long lines of viewers of all ages. Carter’s work across genres gives the exhibit a wide-ranging appeal — there are looks from period pieces, contemporary stories, and stylized fantasies.
The Afrofuturist theme of the exhibit suggests a utopian philosophy to Carter’s work and highlights the often-overlooked political power of costuming. “We are hoping that our visitors will leave the exhibition with an appreciation for the designer as an expert storyteller, who harnesses the power of visual communication to share narratives of culture, race, and politics,” explained Rafael Gomes, SCAD’s Director of Fashion Exhibitions, to Hyperallergic over email. Part of what makes Carter’s work so potent is the way it conveys these lofty goals while maintaining a sense of fun. Her costumes never feel fussy or uptight.
Consider, for instance, the red ensemble worn by Rosie Perez in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing. As she dances to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” her energetic moves combine with the seductive color and formfitting silhouette of her outfit, making the scene impossible to look away from, and setting the tone for the urgency to come. Do the Right Thing remains potent over three decades after its release and its of-the-moment costumes are an essential part of its political messaging. Carter’s costumes never caricature their wearers — her work has long been defined by its playfulness and ability to elevate characters who are too often marginalized. Radio Raheem’s “LOVE/HATE” rings, simultaneously bits of streetwear pop-art and guiding lights for Do the Right Thing’s philosophy, are the very definition of a statement piece.
When Black Panther was released, it was lauded for its striking representation. Carter’s costumes are a large part of what made this Afrofuturistic world so visceral. The exhibit brings her big-budget designs down to earth, allowing museumgoers a closer look at their sumptuous textures and details influenced by African tribes like the Maasai. Carter’s costumes easily hold their own in the action-packed Marvel Universe, and the exhibit offers a valuable opportunity to appreciate some of the intricate craft that goes into that Hollywood spectacle.
The designer worked very closely with the SCAD FASH team, and the exhibit, with its geometric setup and pops of color, feels lively and refreshingly unpretentious. From the deliciously garish ’70s-style suiting of Dolemite Is My Name and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka to the more subdued mid-century tailoring of Selma, to name just a few of the films represented, Carter’s work encompasses a broad range of Black stories, and SCAD FASH presents these vital looks with thoughtful and exuberant creativity.
Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design continues through September 12, 2021 at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film (1600 Peachtree Street NW, Atlanta, GA). The exhibition is co-curated by Rafael Gomes and Christina Frank, with Julia Long.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…