It’s been a while since I finished the MoMA’s online course collaboration with Coursera, “Fashion as Design” which run more or less parallel to their Exhibition “Items: Is Fashion Modern.”
We looked at various items, we looked at production, inspirational heroes, silhouettes, lifecycles, modesty and expression. There were some tricky quizzes at the end of each week, but all in all, I managed to pull myself together to get it done.
I learned some new things about fashion in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But I won’t lie, it got a bit tedious at times, because I was constantly looking at the course material through the eyes of a knitter.
And there is no easy answer to the question, ‘Is fashion modern?’ because people are doing so many different things with the clothes that they put on their/our backs. Recycling, upcycling or even restyling garments of a bygone decade may feel less than modern, but the actual idea that this should be important to us is a fairly new one.
Or that making (and in particular knitting and crochet) is not old-fashioned or quaint, but a growing niche of forward-thinking activism (where supporting shepherds producing wool locally can help with anti-desertification around the world)…
Of note: Coursera blog’s conversation with Curator Paola Antonelli.
In the second week of the course, we have been looking at society’s heroes: Military, pop and cultural heroes. And of course, how these have influenced Fashion, from Bruce Lee’s tracksuit, to the trenchcoat, hoodies and MoonBoots. We were also asked to reflect on our own heroes. And what they would wear.
My hero of the Moment is Binti, from nigerian-american sci-fi and fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor. Binti is a young math prodigy from a future Earth, who leaves her home and Family to be the first to go to University off-world. She’s a member of the southern African Himba People, who cover their Skin and hair with a red clay mix called Ojitze.
In the novel, even though they are skilled craftsmen of futuristic Technologies, they maintain a crucial link through their clothes to their roots. Okorafor describes Binti as being the only one from her ethnic group going to University, so she pretty much stands out (as she does in the general science-fiction/ fantasy landscape) with dark skin, different clothes and hair braided with her family codes and coated with ojitze.
Her clothes and the accessories she takes from home with her basically help her become heroic, and broker a peace between warring civilizations. The collage above, is my visualization of Binti’s ‘running away’ outfit, which is at once a mix of traditional and futuristic: A silky red skirt, a functional orange softshell jacket, anklets to protect against snakes in the grass, her high-tech astrolabe on a chain and mysterious edan (reimagined as a box clutch).
I vaguely remember the opening of the MoMA Exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?At the time, I thought, ‘What a pity that I’m not planning on being in New York to see this anytime soon.’
Well, now they’re offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), based on the Exhibition over at Coursera.org. Enrollment is open until December 25.
The Course is run by the exhibition’s curator Paola Antonelli along with her team from the Department of Architecture and Design at the musem.
Among all objects of design, our clothes are the most universal and intimate. Like other kinds of design, fashion thrives on productive tensions between form and function, automation and craftsmanship, standardization and customization, universality and self-expression, and pragmatism and utopian vision. It exists in the service of others, and it can have profound consequences—social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental.
Fashion as Design focuses on a selection of more than 70 garments and accessories from around the world, ranging from kente cloth to jeans to 3D-printed dresses. Through these garments, we’re going to look closely at what we wear, why we wear it, how it’s made, and what it means. You’ll hear directly from a range of designers, makers, historians, and others working with clothing every day—and, in some cases, reinventing it for the future. Studio visits, interviews, and other resources introduce the history and development of each garment and their changing uses, meanings, and impact over time.