Filling all three galleries at the Camden Arts Centre is Nigerian fashion designer’s Duro Olowu’s debut curatorial venture. In recent years, fashion has found its way into the museum, most notably the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition held at the V&A last year. That exhibition is largely considered a triumph in the long debated topic of fashion design as art form; the troubled life of the artist contributing to the mythology of the man, the brand and the clothes themselves. Making and Unmaking however, displays art in a method more closely related to fashion; there is no narrative, but simply a collection of beautiful and/or interesting items arranged as if they might be found in an atelier.
Curation mostly depends on the history of art in order to contextualise the works on display, but Olowu has achieved the opposite, removing context entirely and simply curating what seems most appropriate to term a 21st century “cabinet of curiosities.” Whilst this might not seem like a substantial basis on which to arrange an exhibition, several elements unite the disparate items on display, the most evocative of which being the emphasis placed on the body.
With classical figurative compositions come flesh-coloured curvaceous vases, sculptures made from bunched underwear and child-size mannequins sporting butterfly wings. Some items are troubling in this sense, connotations of the body under duress exist in the arrangements of knotted cord and clothes hanging empty, illuminating the absence of the body within them. The mixed method of display and the richness of the exhibition greets the eye much like wandering around an unknown city might, straining to take everything in as a whole, and to memorise each evocative detail at once.
With hardly any accompanying materials, each piece is to be taken as an individual work of art, whether it be fashion design, photograph, painting, sculpture, ceramic, jewellery or tapestry. Additionally, the items are drawn from various movements and time periods as well as mediums; a rather traditional portrait by Meredith Frampton of 1921 accompanies striking fashion photographs by Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou from recent years, which are hung alongside tapestries by Anni Albers produced in the 1950s. Art-historically significant works are dotted amongst works created by unknown hands: a naked self-portrait by Claude Cahun here, a Chris Ofili there, in no particular order, removing the eminent title of ‘artist’ and placing items on a par with one another.
Most interestingly of all, the exhibition crosses the imaginary East/West divide as it relates to the canon, and presents art as a process without the usual accompaniment of hierarchy. In terms of post-colonialism, this is an exiting exhibition because it removes the all-important “cycle of influence” and the supposed shaman-like abilities of Western artists to appropriate Eastern art for themselves. Rather, the exhibition’s very apt title describes the intention of the exhibition, that the method of making art as a universal desire which transcends all arbitrary divisions.
Making and Unmaking is at the Camden Arts Centre, London until 18th September.
For more information: www.camdenartscentre.org
1. Claude Cahun, Self Portrait (kneeling, naked, with mask), 1928. Courtesy of of the Jersey Heritage Collections.