Keeping two Virgilles: the “figures of speech” are the beauty and the Hypebeast

The keepers – mostly white – dictate what constitutes beauty, elegance and celebration. Racism is so ingrained in American culture, how can you sew a life without its construction?

“You can’t take away where we came from to understand where we are,” said Virgil Abloh during an intimate discussion at the Institute of Contemporary Art about his “Figures of Speech” exhibition, which opens Saturday. “Race is one of those things that is in the air, but the bit of magic around my work is that it’s in DNA, it’s not on the surface.”

By the way, his work reads like ultra trendy, and a bit fast food. This is a man who can – love it or hate it – indeed slap the name of an item on said item and sell it for hundreds of dollars. Is it the property of value, of art, or is it capitalism and the hype? Maybe everything.

He is not without vision. As you spend time with his art, be it fashion, his furniture or his sculpture, you think about the privilege of beauty and luxury and who defines it. The genius and the grind of Abloh are there in his luxury brand, Off-White, in the DJing, there in the ICA, in the Nike collaborations, and also in the Louis Vuitton house, where he is the director. artistic fashion. That’s what got him there.

It is also the basis of his exhibition at the ICA. The show looks a lot like a catalog of his career highlights, with a joke about the reviews his first brand – Pyrex – received, paying homage to the iconic YEEZUS album cover he designed, the Nike collection. , the Louis Vuitton campaigns he conceptualized, some of his IKEA creations. But it is more than that to consider.

The Lauryn Hill playing on a stereo, the DJ flyers, the skateboard ramp. Not just the Louis Vuitton duffel bag, but the way it is attached to the platform. Who he stages in his fashion films: Saul Williams, yasiin bey, Kai-Isaiah Jamal. “Fashion Wall” is a 60ft photo collage demanding your attention, featuring everyday African fashion on black people on the streets of Accra, Ghana, as a landscape of cutout photos of models, wearing the fashion Abloh – its shades of white. It is a direct line not only with its Ghanaian roots, but also with Africa and its creators.

As a child he felt like success was a mountain he didn’t know how to climb, as those at the top so rarely reflect you. Now he is making paths for others. He reminds them that the mountain is made of them too.

A blue foam ladder, “AS IMPOSSIBLE” in the exhibit looks both the blues of broken hearts and an invitation to get up and climb. As I am possible, so are you.

The point of this show, Abloh believes, is to make the inside of these elite institutions begin to correspond to the outside, to the communities in which they reside. His work is not meant to speak the language of critics. It’s for culture, especially young people and others.

“My job is not to sit in the establishment,” he said. “It’s done for the 14-year-old to see someone meet him halfway.”

Consider a teenage Dawoud Bey stepping into the polarizing “Harlem on My Mind” at the Met and seeing James Van Der Zee’s work on display, beautiful portraits of blacks. This moment inspired him to see us through his own lens and to make images for us, of the art of us, without the blank gaze.

“My job is not to stay in the establishment,” Abloh said. “It’s done for the 14-year-old to see someone meet him halfway.” ‘

In “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination,” Toni Morrison asked, “What happens to the writing imagination of a black author who is on some level? always conscious of representing his race to, or despite, a race of readers who understand themselves as “universal” or without race? “

This doesn’t just apply to black writers, it applies to black imaginations, period. Even when race is not the subject of our creativity, it is still a part of it. Someone, somewhere, will do it that way. Because white supremacy is never dead, and slavery, colonization and its lasting effects are truths America would rather bury. Ghosts that haunt us until we live our truth.

Mintou Barry, on his own terms.JO Slaughter

Enter “Breaking Cycles,” an extension of the Abloh show by a Boston-based photographer JO Slaughter and CIA teens, the teen council that amplifies the intersection of art and social justice at the museum.

A series of teenage portraits showcasing Abloh’s clothes, much of which is sold in his ICA pop-up store, “Church & State”, it’s more about teenagers and their self-expression than her clothes. And that’s the point for him and them.

They were able to cut, tear, paint and style thousands of dollars of Abloh designs to their liking, their aesthetic, their definition of self-expression. Self-luxury.

Slaughter, known for making sure his subjects have an influence on the way they are pictured and for ensuring that marginalized stories are told and protected by marginalized storytellers, didn’t just make great portraits. They made visual stories. They collaborated with the teenagers in the making of the photographs. What makes you feel loved, empowered, feel like yourself? These are the kinds of questions they asked themselves when making these images.

Mintou Barry, with her braid wrapped around her neck like jewels and gems lining her eyes, wears an Abloh hat in her portrait that says: Artwork Missing. And yet, the art is there: it, framed in gold. That’s what Abloh was getting from the start.

“It means a lot to me, as a young black woman, to see myself on the walls of the museum,” said Simmons new freshmen and recent Boston Prep graduate. “OJ has given us a lot of freedom. I am grateful. We have to tell our own stories, how we wanted to see and be seen, so even though America has a vision of us, we can speak our truth.

Roselle "Hibi" Carrillo disturbing the erasure.
Roselle “Hibi” Carrillo disturbing the erasure.JO Slaughter

For Roselle “Hibi” Carrillo, who graduated from Lynn Classical High School in 2021, portraits are also a reflection of their lineage and their culture.

“I think of my community in the arts space and of my people in the Philippines. My people are very poorly represented… I think for me to be involved in all of these spaces is a big step for everyone, ”said Carillo, a future freshman at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts of Tufts. .

“Do you see a dark-haired person being who they are on a wall?” I think it inspired me to work harder not to hide and become the person I am now and expand my work for the future.

This is Slaughter’s first museum, reflecting their mission and that of Abloh: to create space by taking space and making your story your own.

“Growing up, I never saw people who look like me in museums,” Slaughter said. “Being able to give this gift to someone is a big deal. What Virgil taught me is precious. My art must not be anything other than it already is. I do it because I document the history of the present, our future past, and being able to bring it to a museum brings me so much joy. It’s not just my art on the wall. This is the art of my community on the wall.

We are worthy. We are luxury. And these are our stories to tell, to make mountains of melancholy beauty.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be contacted at [email protected] and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.

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