‘Adornment’ Exhibit Highlights Beauty and Traditions of Women of Color (KCET)
By Nadra Nittle, KCET, October 2, 2017
To an extent, the images of women of color in the groundbreaking exhibit “Adornment” share similarities with the Native American portraiture of the early 1900s. The subjects wear earnest expressions, traditional and modern dress, their hair in intricate braided styles adorned with gold jewelry. Only, the accessories they don — the large bamboo earrings known as “door knockers” — reflect a street aesthetic rather than one directly related to the women’s ancestry. And Amanda Lopez and Tanya Melendez, the artists behind the exhibit, did not view their subjects through a white male gaze. They are Latinas who captured the images not only to spotlight the beauty and dignity of brown and black women but also to empower them in a society that relegates them to the fringes.
Exhibited in galleries in Los Angeles and Sacramento earlier this year and included in the Museum of Modern Art’s current “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” show, “Adornment” has resonated with communities of color, according to Melendez. The Puerto Rican hairstylist, jewelry and clothing maker from Highland Park said the exhibit represents the culmination of the art forms she’s studied and used as inspiration. Melendez, creator of the jewelry line NenaSoulFly, has made custom jewelry for celebrities such as Erykah Badu and done styling for the fashion brand KENZO, among others.
“With the idea of adornment, I was wondering how I could start representing people of color using modern, every day jewelry pieces that speak particularly to black and brown women,” Melendez said. She also wanted to show how the tradition of hair braiding links Latinas and African American women together. Using jewelry to accent the braided hairdos, some of which are modeled on indigenous styles, gives the photo subjects the bearing of royalty.