For its latest exhibition, Milan's Fondazione Prada is celebrating Black culture through vintage photographs. Curated by Theaster Gates, an American social practice installation artist and visual arts professor at the University of Chicago, the foundation worked with the archives of the Johnson Publishing Company, which founded Ebony and Jet magazines in 1945 and 1951, respectively. Since their debut, the titles have remained committed to creating content that touches Black culture, from the March on Washington in 1963 to the accolades of Black celebrities, athletes, artists, and more. Now, some of the most brilliant photos found in their archives are being put on display.
Starting today through January 14, 2019, The Black Image Corporation is on view at Prada's cultural complex. Italy may sound like a trek, but we promise it's worth it. The pictures of Moneta Sleet, Jr. and Isaac Sutton are a must-see if you catch yourself stopping in Italy's fashion capital anytime soon. Of the exhibition, Gates says he hopes to "tease out the creation of female iconic moments by Sleet and Sutton and also offer small forays into the lives of everyday people through never-before-seen images from the Johnson Collection." For Gates, the archives symbolize beauty and Black female power. "Today it seems to be a good time to dig into the visual lexicon of the American book and show images that are rarely seen outside of my community. I wanted to celebrate women of all kinds and especially Black women."
A unique exhibit for Prada in several regards, the installation is interactive, with the framed images displayed in a structure conceived by Gates in which viewers can see the fronts and backs of photos (which usually contain more contextual, chronological information) and select which images they admire and want to display on the outside of it for others to see. It'll also contain original furnishings from the Ebony/Jet Building, which is now a designated Chicago landmark.
It also reminds the world that, especially in fashion, designers, casting directors, editors, and more — i.e. those at the top — haven't done justice to the Black community throughout history. It was just last month that Vogue allowed a photographer of color to shoot their cover, the first in its 126-year history. And when it comes to diversity on the runway, it's no secret Fashion Month has a long way to go. But exhibitions like The Black Image Corporation prove that Black culture has been as much a part of fashion history as anything else; the industry just chooses to see what it wants to.