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Smithsonian Showcases African American Fashion Style

The 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival showcases its five-year community research project on African American identity with the program “The Will to Adorn: African American Diversity, Style, and Identity.” This multicity collaboration examines the history and culture of the aesthetics of African Americans.

The Festival will be held Wednesday, June 26, through Sunday, June 30, and Wednesday, July 3, through Sunday, July 7, outdoors on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets. All events are free. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day with evening events such as concerts and dance parties beginning at 6 p.m. The Festival is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

“Whether we realize it or not, we are all dress artists—the way we compose our look is a creative expression of our ideas about who we are and who we aspire to be,” said Diana N’Diaye, program curator. “This program explores the diversity of African American traditions of style, but also teaches young people the importance of documenting their own culture and saving that information for themselves and future generations.”

The program focuses on urban style centers like Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Calif., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Students and faculty at historically African American colleges and universities have worked with Smithsonian staff to document the wearable art traditions of African Americans in their communities through interviews, photographs and fieldwork.

The program, which features 40 participants, will occupy three tents, each devoted to different aspects of the program. In the Collaborative Research Tent, three stations will allow visitors to talk to researchers and artisans. The tent’s cultural documentation and research station will display the fieldwork that went into the development of the project.

Visitors can learn how social media was used to collect data and talk with researchers about canvasing their communities during the research phase of the project. The cultural and sartorial biography station will allow visitors to record personal stories about fashion. Both activities will be facilitated by Folk Culture Interns from New York City and Atlanta, who have done research in their communities. The tent’s third station—Health, Hair and Heritage—will examine the relationship between beauty and heritage within the African American community.

In the Design Studio Tent, visitors will see the styles of the different communities through barbering, hair styling, headwear, fashion, body art, footwear, jewelry and textile design. The Festival Marketplace will feature pieces created by the program’s artisans.

In the Rock the Runway Tent, visitors can watch fashion shows. Each evening beginning at 5 p.m., visitors can “rock the runway” and become models…

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