“We are so fortunate that Ruth put her faith in SCAD FASH to tell her story,” says Alexandra Sachs, executive director, SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, speaking of Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design, now on view at the museum. Featuring over 60 costumes from Carter’s career, along with sketches and ephemera, the dazzling retrospective was named by W Magazine as the number one fashion exhibition to see in 2021.
Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design is co-curated by Rafael Gomes, director of fashion exhibitions, and Christina Frank, assistant director of fashion exhibitions, in collaboration with guest curator Julia Long. A significant number of students and alumni worked on the show. Fashion designers Madi Smith (B.F.A., fashion, 2019) and Kahmani Zeon (B.F.A, fashion) created the perfect fit when dressing the mannequins and putting finishing details on costumes. Jonas Stewart (M.F.A., film and television) edited the film montage exploring the breadth and depth of Carter’s career. The exhibition’s Afrofuturistic installation incorporates original artwork by Brandon Sadler (B.F.A., illustration, 2009), whose murals were prominently featured in Black Panther.
Here, Sachs and Frank discuss the curatorial process and the wondrous result.
Alexandra Sachs: Ruth has been a friend of SCAD for a while. She was here several years ago for a faculty conference where she gave a lecture, and Rafael [Gomes, curator] and I had the pleasure of having lunch with her. When she was in Atlanta to work on Coming 2 America, we met up again. Then, as the pandemic caused us to reconsider our fall 2020 exhibition calendar, I thought, I’m just going to write Ruth to see if she’d be interested in working with us. Fortunately, she was.
Christina Frank: Ruth’s archivist, Julia Long, presented us with a list of the film costumes they had available. It was immediately apparent there was an overarching narrative these films are telling about African-American history, starting with Roots, to Selma, to Do The Right Thing, culminating in Black Panther and Ruth winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 2019. We wanted the exhibition to reflect that arc.
AS: Black Panther is the signature image for the exhibition, and it’s the thing Ruth is best known for, but what might surprise visitors is how much she has done in her career. Ruth really sees the totality of her work as an expression of Afrofuturism, in the sense that drawing from the past is a means for thinking about possibilities of the future. She’s been doing that throughout her career.
CF: A lot of our student docents who work in the galleries are international students who might not have grown up learning about the Civil Rights Movement. It’s imperative that we provide educational tools for what’s in the exhibition. We developed a digital guide that offers historical context for each costume in the exhibition, which helps people appreciate what they’re seeing.
AS: Another really important aspect of this exhibition is its appreciation for the collaborative nature of creative pursuits. Just like our exhibition team is a large team that brought it together, there’s an even larger team that brings together these films. We have a projection in the museum’s front area where Ruth is talking about her process and also about the relationship between costume designer and production designer, and costume designer and director. That exchange of ideas helps develop concepts that then become manifest.
Written by SCAD.