“Front and Center/ed” – Celebrating Black Fashion Throughout History

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By Megan McGibney/Bklyner

Since 2012, Black History Month has been celebrated along Myrtle Avenue’s retail area in Clinton Hill in an event called Black Artstory Month. Historically, visual artists create murals in storefront windows in the neighborhood, united around a common theme.

This year, however, the Myrtle Avenue Business Partnership (MABP), which organizes Black Artstory Month, has teamed up with Black Gotham Experience to also add events every Friday in February, all focusing on this year’s theme called “Front and Center/ed” – which celebrates Black fashion throughout history.

“February is Black History Month as well as [New York] Fashion Week,” says Kamau Ware, a historian/artist who founded Black Gotham Experience (BGX) in 2010. “People will be focused on fashion. How people dress has a historical value. There is a history behind the style.”

By focusing on Black fashion throughout history, particularly in Brooklyn, BGX aims to discuss and display this topic by holding exhibits, panels and other events along or near Myrtle Avenue. This past Friday evening, BGX and MABP kicked-off “Front and Center/ed” at Building 92 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with two panels. One discussed Black history in Brooklyn, while the other talked about Style.

Kamau Ware on the right talking with panelists Barron Claiborne and Constance C.R. White as they discuss style. (Via BGX)

Future events, all free and open to the public, include a drink and draw at The Emerson Bar at 561 Myrtle Avenue this coming Friday, February 8th. It would feature the work of two stylists, Nana Badu who originates from Ghana, and Charles Johnson. These two stylists will present their creations on models, and participants will sketch those models.

On February 15th, at Putnam’s at 416 Myrtle Avenue, there will be a visual exhibit in the restaurant’s lower level. Finally, on February 22nd at The Hall on 47 Hall Street, fashion designers will display their work while a “mixture of artists work and history” will be projected onto walls, according to a MABP press release.

The partnership with BGX has allowed for a more inclusive, bigger event.

“For me, as an artist and a curator,” explains Ware, “I look at art as an artist looks at an artifact. Murals go up and come down. There’s a lot of great photographers, illustrators who are excluded because of the murals. We wanted to create something for wider types of artists to create.”

But that didn’t stop MABP from deciding to do a few storefront murals anyway. They contacted Steven Mosley, who has done murals for Black Artstory nearly every year since its inception, and he quickly created images on three storefronts along Myrtle Avenue. They are at Pecks’ food shop at 455 Myrtle, Salon 718 at 456 Myrtle, and Ray’s Barber Shop at 331 Myrtle. All images follow the theme of Front and Center/ed.

Steven Mosley doing a mural at 718 Salon (By Megan McGibney/Bklyner)

“What happens in Brooklyn spreads throughout the world,” Mosley says. “Be it fashion, music and style. There’s something that’s cool about Brooklyn culture. It’s a unity of the Black diaspora.”

Mosley’s ideas of Black fashion in Brooklyn include an older woman wearing her Sunday best. Other images include styles inspired by the annual Afro Punk Festival, where, as Mosley says, “everyone sets their own trends.”

“Even if people don’t have a lot, they will try,” he adds. “Fashion is accessible, everyone has their own fashion. It’s all about being unique.”

According to BGX’s Ware, Black fashion has been a way to present oneself to avoid racism, as far back as the 19th century.

“It’s like saying, ‘I’m this kind of Black person’”. Your particular ilk or class,” he explains. “You need protection always. For Black people, fashion is a form of armor.”

And even though BGX will discussing all of these issues during their events for Black Artstory Month in Clinton Hill, the conversation won’t end once February ends. For one thing, the paintings and photographs that will be displayed at Putnams’ will last until March 15th. From there, they will come right outside the BGX studio near the South Street Seaport on Front Street.

Also, BGX will expand these exhibitions and talks later this year to BRIC and the Brooklyn Museum. It appears that this year’s Black Artstory Month theme is the start of a centered lens on what it means to be Black in Brooklyn.

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