Recently, the Costume Institute caused an uproar as they announced that the next year’s theme will focus on Catholicism. Entitled “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” the fashion exhibit will feature pieces like a Chanel wedding gown inspired by a communion dress and a Valentino gowns inspired by paintings of monk’s robes. They will also feature holy garments which will be separate from the designer pieces.
That alone would create a debate among the liberal and conservative Catholics. However, another issue came to light regarding the designers featured. According to The New York Times, majority of them were raised Catholic and Western descent. It will include big names like John Galliano, Riccardo Tisci, and Coco Chanel. But the exhibit will only feature one South American or Latin American designer, which is Isabel Toledo.
South America has 40 percent of the world’s Roman Catholic population. How come the Costume Institute didn’t make way for designers from that region? “[It] is hard to imagine that no one else from that continent engaged with Catholic iconography. Challenged on the subject, [Andrew Bolton] said he hoped to expand his purview in a future exhibition,” NYT wrote on the curator-in-charge’s decision.
There seems to be a pattern similar to the 2015 theme “China: Through the Looking Glass.” The exhibit also featured a dominantly Western roster with the likes of Roberto Cavalli and Karl Lagerfeld. The only Chinese designer was Vivienne Tam, who was born in Guangzhou.
The Met Gala had been met with several controversies in the past, including cultural appropriation. But we shouldn’t turn a blind eye on the fact that representation is lacking in their choice of designers. Think: Would the pieces be interpreted properly if there’s only one Latin American designer for a Catholic-centric exhibit? Is this a case of racism or were there simply no slots left to accommodate others?
What’s troubling is that both exhibits have dominantly Western perspectives, regardless if they’re inspired by Orientalism or Catholicism. Having one Latin American or Chinese designer is an unfair ratio considering that they should be the one representing their culture in a prestigious exhibit like this.
The 2018 Met Gala is still months away and we’re curious, and slightly worried, about the outcome. Will the lack of representation affect the exhibit? It will solely depend on how spectators will deem it.
Art by Lara Intong
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