Cotton—also as Art

4 Aug

 

Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art: Virgil Abloh 

Picture the familiar “Cotton” logo: in white letters, the word “cotton” surmounted by a white cotton boll, all against a black background; with the husk of the boll outlined in black, against the white of the boll itself. 

Holding this logo in your mind, recall that the cotton was picked by black slaves and sharecroppers—for profits enjoyed by white owners.

Now note that the Cotton logo is the property of Cotton Incorporated, which in turn was established by The Cotton Research and Promotion Act of 1966 to conduct research and promote the use of cotton.

This logo is included as a commentary on race in the United States, by an artist who is also a fashion designer—and the son of Ghanaian immigrants.

My micro description of one display may give an idea of the richness and complexity of the retrospective now on exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, entitled “Figures of Speech.” The artist, Virgil Abloh, is 38 years old, with a biography that is as breathtaking as his art. Graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, going on to a  Master of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he followed his talents into fashion design. Soon, he started his own fashion house, Off-White, headquartered in Milan, Italy, but opening its first store in Tokyo. He then partnered with IKEA to design furniture and in 2018 became head of menswear fashions for Louis Vuitton. This current exhibit includes clothing, shoes, sculpture, installations, and architectural models.

Abloh’s work cuts across media, connecting visual art, music, graphic design, fashion design, and architecture. One critic has said that Abloh brings hip-hop into fashion (think of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s bringing hip-hop to the musical, in “Hamilton”). To get your mind around this artist, it helps to keep in mind that he begins with streetwear and turns it into fashion; and that his work—much of which focuses on race and racism—is intentionally subversive. 

A final example of Abloh’s art—a black hand sneaking up behind a white figure, giving the “peace” symbol. All of this beneath a neon sign that reads “You’re obviously in the wrong place.”

 

 

Cotton at Museum of Contemporary Art

inspired by the current exhibit

White on Black

Black on White

Cotton boll soft and white 

against the calloused black hands

that picked it

black hands and aching black backs

within the white world

that lived off black backs

Cotton Incorporated

a world perpetuated

still white

I feel most black when I am 

against a white background

I feel most white when I am 

against  a black background

(c) Phil Hefner, 4 August 2019,  with respects to Zora Neale Hurston

2 Responses to “Cotton—also as Art”

  1. Philip L. Hougen August 5, 2019 at 3:00 pm #

    My spouse Diane and I saw this exhibit in June and were awed and inspired by the creative use of fabric and design to make art and social commentary In unique and beautifully troubling ways. Thanks, Phil, for bringing this to the attention of others.
    Philip Hougen

    • Liftthescreen August 5, 2019 at 7:38 pm #

      Good to hear from you—it’s such a rich exhibit that it’s difficult to do justice to it. It certainly expand d my perspective.

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