KSU fashion school awards students in collaboration with Museum of Contemporary Art

“Chiaroscuro” features a playful light display to contrast with the darker color palette and is featured in the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art.

Kayla Polansky Reporter

Kent State School of Fashion awarded students for their visual designs for the 2021 Museum of Contemporary Art Visual Design Competition hosted by the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Students submitted design ideas by Oct. 14. Two team designs were selected on Oct. 18 to be displayed. One of the winning displays will be shown in the moCa while the other winning display will be featured in Rockwell Hall.

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s display winning team included Camryn Calderwood and Olivia Meyer, fashion merchandising majors, and Tamara Marono, fashion design major for their piece titled, “Chiaroscuro.”

The piece involved an elegant black wedding dress constructed from three other upcycled wedding dresses.

Students were given a prompt to center their work around the ideas of gender expression, play and DIY culture. Recycled and thrifted materials were encouraged for students to use. 

The prompt was in coordination with moCa Cleveland’s current piece Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano LA. The exhibition shows over two decades of work created for notable cultural and artistic Chicanx movements in the Los Angeles Area. Axis Mundo was curated by C. Ondine Chavoya and David Evans Frantz

The exhibition itself is named after Edmundo “Mundo” Meza who was a popular artist in the 1970’s. Mundo’s pieces, among other artists, are featured in the exhibition.

The moCa team chose the wedding dress based off of inspiration from Mundo’s piece Merman with Mandolin. Aspects such as the mermaid shape and scales were taken into account when formulating their piece. 

Accompanied by the black dress was a half-cropped zoot suit and a 1940’s pocket watch. The mannequin itself was covered with black fishnet with a bold black mustache resting on the facial features. 

A zoot suit was a coat often worn by minority men in the 1940’s. The moCa team took inspiration on this piece of clothing from a piece featured in Axis Mundo titled My Parents in their Matching Zoot Suits.

The zoot suit is an aspect the team wanted to bring out in the piece for highlighting gender fluidity. Marono wanted to focus on this aspect when putting the piece together. 

“Women were not liked to wear zoot suits because it was more of a male clothing,” she said. “The fact that women started to wear suits was like you were going into the male aspect of clothing.”

The moCa winning team’s piece was placed in a window display on the third floor of the museum. The window display aspect came in use with the team by creating their own backdrop made out of hanging envelopes on fishing wire. 

The piece is titled, “Chiaroscuro,” meaning the effect of contrasting light and shadow that is reflected in the piece. This effect was something the team noticed throughout the entire exhibition, said team member Meyer. 

“We were really inspired by the way a lot of artists in the exhibit embodied the light and darkness in society,” she said. 

Calderwood said her team’s inspiration also came heavily from the sense of bondage and community in the exhibition. 

“Something that stuck out was how all of these artists found their own voice and their own ability to cope in the community despite all of these challenges that they faced,” she said. “The AIDS epidemic, adversity from the churches that did not accept them and society in general.”

The competition featured two winners with two different locations for each team. The moCa Cleveland team’s piece will be placed in moCa while the other team will be placed in Rockwell Hall.

While the moCa team created a piece made to be finished and untouched, fashion design majors Esther Luo and Maria Wharton took a different approach with their interactive garment design. 

“We’re starting with an unfinished garment and it’s going to be continuously evolving over the next few months,” Luo said. 

Luo and Wharton will have their design displayed in Rockwell Hall. The piece titled, “Self Portrait” will begin with Luo and Wharton hosting a set of three different workshops. Each workshop will have a prompt relating to the themes of Axis Mundo for guests to interpret their own meaning on the fabric swatch. 

Every fabric swatch given to Luo and Wharton will be placed on their evolving piece. 

One example of a prompt is related to the transient of social norms in everyday society. This prompt, among the others, is a way for workshop participants to add to the evolving “Self Portrait” piece. 

“Making it more accessible to how we’re making it will make people feel more intimate with it. I think that’s pretty important for the nature of the project,” Wharton said. 

“Self Portrait” became open for public viewing on Oct. 21 and will continue to be on display throughout the spring 2022 semester. 

Aspects of inspiration for their piece came from the many societal issues Axis Mundo displays, such as gender identity and white washing of the queer movement. 

“We are thrifting a lot of materials for this project and we thrifted a lot of denim and leather,” Luo said. “We’re going to be bleaching the items, which is another representation of the white washing.”

While having different approaches and locations for their pieces, both teams went through the same submission process. The process itself was open to all majors across campus. 

The competition was created by Kent State School of Fashion assistant professor Dr. Lauren Copeland and moCa Cleveland Curator of Public Programs & Artist Residencies Lauren Leving. 

Kent’s School of Fashion was chosen by Leving in her research of wanting to celebrate Mundo and the artists in his network through the world of fashion. 

“I started researching and Kent State has an amazing school of fashion. I reached out to Louise and she was really excited to work with us,” Leving said. 

Each team was to submit a visual trend board, or visual representation of the proposal’s vision, one to three paragraph explanation of the vision, approximate budget of display installation and the timeline of the display. Kent State’s fashion school offered a budget of up to $500 for each team. 

Axis Mundo began in 2017 from a series of exhibitions funded by the Getty Foundation to explore Latin American art history. The exhibition was originally based in Los Angeles, but has since spread nationally. The exhibition tour was organized by Independent Curators International

Since the nationwide tour began, Frantz has seen a positive outcome after being hesitant on the reactions of those outside of L.A.

“We didn’t know how the show was going to resonate outside of its immediate proximity, and it seems like that sense of joy is what comes through,” Frantz said. 

Mundo, among the other artists in the exhibition, were able to share their artistic passion despite the hardships they faced. These included racism, homophobia, exclusion and other forms of violence. 

“It speaks to the needs of our times in many ways,” Frantz said. “These artists responded to such difficult and challenging moments with creativity.”

The winning students were invited to hear from curators Frantz and Chavoya at a cocktail party held on Nov. 5. Both teams were able to meet the curators at this event as well as specific artists from the exhibition. 

Guests of the cocktail party got the opportunity to view the Kent State piece in the museum. For some guests, such as Alicia Moreno, the exhibition as well as Kent’s piece “Chiaroscuro” held personal and heartfelt meaning. 

“I am very happy this is here,” she said. “With the way things are right now, there is fear that we may have to go back in the closet. I just think it is very important to know where you come from.”

Kayla Polansky is a fashion and relationships reporter. Contact her at [email protected].