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Nordstrom Puts Black Style and Expression Front and Center In Their Latest Exhibit—Here’s What the Artists Want You To Know

Image By: Margaret Rose Vendryes

It’s out of the ordinary to find a durag at Nordstrom, but if you walk into the Bustling Flagship Store, in the heart of Midtown, you’ll find a handwoven three-story-tall durag. On September 17, a section of the Nordstrom store was transformed from its retail floorplan into a thought-provoking space for Black expression through art and style. Nordstrom’s latest exhibit is titled Styling: Black Expression, Rebellion, and Joy Through Fashion. The exhibit is curated by Souleo in collaboration with Long Gallery Harlem. The exhibit—which spans five floors of the store—features 15 different artists and their interpretations of the complexities of Black existence through the lens of fashion. 

Souleo, who is no stranger to putting together entertaining and informative events, exhibitions, and cultural programs, was tasked with putting together this exhibit in six weeks. “I’ve worked with Lewis Hall, the founder of the gallery in the past and he reached out to me to curate the exhibit,” Souleo told EBONY. “After we all met and the concept was approved, I had six weeks to find the artists, and put everything together and usually I have six months to a year”. 

When coming up with the title of the exhibit, Souleo wanted to focus on how Black people have used style as a way to be creative and expressive. As the concept came together, he also wanted to acknowledge the current social climate in the Black community. Finally, it was essential for him to capture the essence of Black people as a whole, which for him is joy. “At the end of the day we have to have happiness in our lives and we always continue to survive, not just survive but thrive and that’s where the joy comes from,” he told EBONY. 

Souleo drew his main inspiration from the Centennial of the Harlem Renaissance. “I wanted to acknowledge the legacy but I didn’t want to do it in typical fashion that focuses on jazz, the art and music, I wanted to focus on the style. It made sense to explore what the representation of black style means now,” Souleo told EBONY. From that guiding point, Souleo began reaching out to artists within his network and searching for new artists whose work would help bring this vision to life. 

One of the artists featured is Margaret Rose Vendreys. Her work in the exhibit reimagines images of Black celebrities such as Billy Porter and Eartha Kitt through the addition of traditional African masks. “My addition of the traditional African Mask proudly worn by the Black celebrity acknowledges an ancestral legacy that evokes power and prestige, and transports their staged persona beyond show biz”, said Vendreys. For her, the exhibit was an opportunity to give new life to some of her art. “I had quite a few pieces in storage and no one wants their art in storage, so I saw my work as beautifully adaptable to that environment,” she told EBONY. 

Image By: Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola

One of the most notable pieces from the exhibit is a durag tapestry that stands 3 stories tall. This piece was commissioned by Nigerian-American artist, Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola. Anthony transformed a basic staple in Black culture into a multi-layered, abstract work of art. There is a certain duality within the durag that reflects the Black community as a whole. The durag has been both criminalized and celebrated; through this piece, Akinbola engages with issues of identity, respectability, and the commercialization of Black style. “I like my work to subvert power and play with power dynamics. I think being able to bring the durag into a high-end department store where an individual wearing a durag could potentially be stereotyped or face some form of epistemic violence is powerful,” Anthony told EBONY. “It’s my goal to have people feel agency when they see that work, especially Black people and people of color. It’s common for us to feel uncomfortable in spaces that are predominantly white and when I look at a store like Nordstrom the goal is really to bring our language into the space and communicate with other individuals that identify with the same values and culture as I do,” he said. 

The exhibit, which will be open until October 29, the set up allows visitors to have a non-linear experience unlike some traditional art exhibitions. The exhibit spans throughout the store so there is something to catch the eye at every entrance. “I do have a spot in my head where I want everyone to start, but it’s not practical so I would just say go into the space and you’ll notice the art,” Souleo told EBONY. There is so much to take in visually in a store like Nordstrom but to the credit of the artists, the art stands out. 

Image By: Stephen Tayo, Boys In Kenneth Ize

Viewers can expect to leave the exhibit having learned something new and experienced the soul that goes into Black art. Above all else Souleo wants the exhibit to ”inspire a feeling of joy and creativity.”

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