Event Attendance: Diversity Seen in Hollywood Costumes

By Kcalnan

On Wednesday November 8th, 2017 I had the pleasure of attending a lecture presented by the SLA New York Diversity Committee. The lecture “Diversity Seen in Hollywood Costumes: Collecting, Curating, and Librarianship” featured guest lecturer John Davey. Not only is Mr. Davey the Library Manager at the law firm of Alston & Bird LLP, he is also an avid collector of vintage Hollywood costumes, vintage fashion, and Haute couture. After 18 years of collecting, Mr. Davey has become an expert in his genre of collecting and pieces from his collection have been exhibited throughout the U.S., France, Japan, and Korea. He displayed and discussed eight costumes from his personal collection:

  • Katharine Hepburn’s silver dress from “Desk Set” (1957)
  • Rock Hudson’s beige jacket from “Send Me No Flowers” (1964)
  • Ramon Navarro’s Navy jacket from “The Midshipman” (1925)
  • Salma Hayek’s red velvet dress from “Frida” (2002)
  • Penelope Cruz’s white flower dress from “Elegy” (2008)
  • Lana Turner’s pink dress from “Imitation of Life” (1959)
  • Halle Berry’s sparkle gown from “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999)
  • Eddie Murphy’s silver suit from “Dreamgirls” (2006)

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Mr. Davey shared the curatorial aspects of his collection: how he acquires his costumes, how he determines the condition of each piece, how he verifies the authenticity of each item, and how he preserves the costumes. His lecture highlighted how each of the eight pieces represented diversity in Hollywood costumes. Mr. Davey selected Katharine Hepburn’s dress because it was featured in “Desk Set,” a film about an intelligent woman working in the library field. Since Katharine Hepburn was a Caucasian woman, her status as a librarian reflects the lack of diversity that we still see in the information field today. Rock Hudson’s jacket represents homosexuality, particularly because he was the first big star to die as a result of AIDS. His sexual orientation was hidden by Hollywood to uphold his image as a “heartthrob.” Ramon Navarro’s jacket represents diversity because he was Mexican and homosexual. His sexual orientation was also hidden by Hollywood in order to uphold the positive studio image as well as his image as a “heartthrob.” Salma Hayek’s dress represents Hispanic actresses and lesbians. The film “Frida” was about Frida Kahlo, who was married to Diego Rivera, but had lesbian interactions within the film and throughout her personal life. Penelope Cruz’s dress highlights race and age diversity. Not only is Cruz Hispanic, but in “Elegy” there was nearly a 40-year age difference between her character and her character’s boyfriend.  Lana Turner’s dress was another piece from Mr. Davey’s collection that represented race diversity. Turner was a Caucasian woman, however the movie “Imitation of Life” highlighted difficult race relations. Turner’s character befriends an African American woman and audience witnesses the struggles of Black America in the 1950s. Halle Berry is an African American actress who portrayed Dorothy Dandridge. Dandridge was the first African American actress to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and Berry was the first African American actress to actually win Best Actress. Eddie Murphy’s suit represents African American males and race relations. The film “Dreamgirls” was set during the Civil Rights Movement and expressed racial tensions during that period.

Using eight costumes, Mr. Davey represented a diverse group of actors, actresses, races, race-relations, age groups, time periods, and sexual orientations. He did an acceptable job including as much diversity as possible throughout his presentation. Unfortunately, two aspects of his presentation detracted from his efforts to highlight diversity. The first aspect was that all eight of the costumes, particularly those from actresses, represented “ideal” body types. For example, there were no costumes representing plus-size actresses. Each dress, with the exception of Salma Hayek’s dress, was designed to fit a petite hourglass figure. Hayek’s dress appeared to fit a bit more loosely, but in the film it fit her perfectly. I would have preferred to see more body types represented among the costumes. The second aspect of Mr. Davey’s costumes that detracted from the diversity was that there were no culturally diverse costumes. Although “Frida” was a culturally diverse film, the costume did not specifically highlight cultural diversity. I would have enjoyed viewing a costume from another culture, particularly since Hollywood produces a multitude of movies that focus upon other cultures.

Mr. Davey’s presentation was educational and entertaining, yet I felt that it could have included more facets of diversity. Although Hollywood’s image may be a far cry from the image of libraries, the presentation reminded me of Jennifer Vinopal’s article “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” She invites readers to look critically at culture and suggests being aware of the impact of bias, privilege, and power differentials in the library field, a concept which I applied to Hollywood costumes. In Hollywood, the sexual orientations of Rock Hudson and Ramon Navarro were hidden in order to maintain their images as “heartthrobs.” This reflects the impact of bias, privilege, and power differentials in Hollywood because the studios utilized their power and privilege to present actors as heterosexual, despite being homosexual. The studios maintained this biased image since it was more profitable than featuring homosexual actors. Vinopal also asked, “How much ‘valuing diversity’ does the organization need to demonstrate in order for staff from the dominant culture to perceive it as sufficient?” (2016, Jan. 13) The “organization,” in this case Mr. Davey, felt that his representation of diversity was sufficient for his presentation. The “staff,” meaning the audience and myself in particular, felt that the diversity he presented was insufficient and could have been expanded upon. I would have enjoyed seeing more representation of body types and diverse cultures. I do not have the advantage of knowing the extent of Mr. Davey’s collection, but it is possible that he compiled the most diverse pieces that he owns. Since the presentation was created using his personal collection, the collection solely reflects Mr. Davey’s interests. If he is not interested in cultural diversity or body type diversity, logically they would not be included in his collection or presentation. Despite the two facets of diversity that appeared to be absent, Mr. Davey managed to include a wide range of diverse subjects using only eight costumes. Perhaps in his future presentations, Mr. Davey might consider including costumes which reflect more facets of diversity in Hollywood culture. All in all, attending his lecture and presentation was a pleasurable experience and exceptional opportunity to understand how others interpret diversity.

 

Vinopal, Jennifer. 2016. “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity.

Observation of the Objects Conservation Lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Kcalnan

Below the strategically designed exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) lies a conservation student’s paradise: the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation. I had the privilege of taking a personal tour of the objects conservation lab with Associate Conservator Anne Grady on October 28th, 2017. As a prospective conservator, the inside look at the conservation lab was both exciting and enlightening. Each work station had a unique object in the process of being conserved. Objects ranged from an antique piano, to a Buddha statue, to stained glass windows, to a sarcophagus, to British couches and chairs. The stained glass window had been disassembled for cleaning and repair. The sarcophagus was being analyzed in order to reinforce weak areas and subsequently be returned to the Egyptian Wing for display. The furniture was being cleaned and prepared for display in the new British exhibit, which is set to open in 2019.

Ms. Grady was extremely knowledgeable and willing to share her personal stories and passion for conservation. She began the tour by discussing the broad history of conservation and how she became a conservator. Ms. Grady graciously shared an enlightening story from her fellowship time at the Met. She spent one year analyzing and conserving an 8’x4’ piece of wrought iron art that had previously been in storage. During the first two months, she analyzed the paint. She took cross-sections of the paint and determined that there were eight layers of paint. Before she could proceed with the conservation, she and a group of conservators and curators gathered to determine an appropriate course of action. As a group, they had to determine which color paint they preferred on the surface for the exhibit. They had to consider the context in which the object would be shown and they had to acknowledge that each paint color represented a piece of that object’s history. Each decision regarding the conservation of an object involves an ethical decision, especially when the work to be done is irreversible. Is it better to conserve an object and extend its life or let it decay as the artist had anticipated?

During the tour, Ms. Grady also mentioned how the conservators manage “difficult heritage” objects. She personally had not worked with any objects from indigenous peoples. She did mention that the conservator assigned to indigenous peoples’ objects consults the respective indigenous peoples whenever possible. This process ensures that appropriate conservation methods are utilized. When Ms. Grady mentioned consulting with indigenous peoples, I recalled a story that I previously shared on Twitter about the Smithsonian Institution collaborating with the Alaskan Tlingit tribe to create a replica of their sacred killer whale hat. It was comforting to know that the MMA takes appropriate measures when conserving indigenous peoples’ objects. Ms. Grady compared it to contacting an artist when they conserve that artist’s piece since their insight is extremely valuable to the conservation process. The most surprising element of my observation was when Ms. Grady informed the group that the Native American art had only recently been moved into the American Wing of the MMA. It had previously been displayed in the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas Wing. The transition seemed a bit overdue and made me ponder as to why it had not always been displayed in the American Wing. I recalled the article “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult’?” where Sharon Macdonald discussed how museum exhibits can shape public memory of past atrocities. Macdonald stated that the “relatively durable physical crystallizations of particular ways of regarding the past provide a lens into what is deemed worthy of such effort” (2015, 7).  Exhibiting Native American art in any wing other than the American Wing of the MMA is denying that Native American culture is American. Macdonald considered the acknowledgement of difficult heritage as progress for aggressor countries. Therefore, I believe that Macdonald would view the recent relocation of the Native American art as a positive development in United States history.

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the objects conservation lab and aspire to return as a conservator in the future. The observation reinforced my desire to become a conservator and afforded me the opportunity to see the type of setting in which I could feasibly pursue my career. Ms. Grady also mentioned that the majority of conservators currently working at the MMA are white females from the northeast. Much like the libraries studied in Jennifer Vinopal’s article “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action,” the conservation department at the MMA lacks diversity (2016). Fortunately, this fuels my pursuit of a career as a conservator and only inspires me to continue my quest.

 

Macdonald, Sharon. 2015. “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” Museum International 67: 6-22.

Solly, Meilan. 2017. “This Replica of a Tlingit Killer Whale Hat Is Spurring Dialogue About Digitization.” Smithsonian.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/replica-tlingit-killer-whale-hat-spurring-dialogue-about-digitization-180964483/.

Vinopal, Jennifer. 2016. “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity.

Overcoming Difficult Heritage Through Mutual Acknowledgement

By Kcalnan

Many nations fail to acknowledge difficult heritage, often intentionally, out of fear of damaging their national identity. In the article “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult,’” Sharon Macdonald defines difficult heritage as “times of evil wrong-doing that did no evident credit to a positive national identity” (2015, 6). The Holocaust, the Native American genocide, slavery, and the Nanking Massacre are examples of difficult heritage that nations most likely wish could be obscured from their history. Acknowledging previous atrocities might remind the world of a nation’s dark past, in turn damaging their national identity. Despite a nation’s concern for acknowledging its difficult heritage, Macdonald suggests that “self-disclosure and self-reprimanding have…come to be widely regarded as a positive development by those inside as well as outside the societies that are perpetrating them” (19). Honesty is as important among nations as it is between friends. Macdonald’s examples of positive development include the opening of Germany’s educational exhibits surrounding National Socialism and the payment of reparations by France to Holocaust survivors as a result of the national rail company’s participation in the Holocaust (12-17). Occasionally, victimized groups pressured nations into addressing their difficult heritage, such as victim organizations in post-WWII Germany. When victim nations desire an apology, it pressures guilty nations to acknowledge their difficult heritage. But, what if a victimized nation does not seek an apology?

Macdonald’s article does not discuss instances where victimized nations do not seek an apology. A clear example is the atrocities committed by the United States during World War II: bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1945, the United States government justified bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a way to end the war in the Pacific and prevent further American casualties. Unfortunately, the bombing instantaneously cost Japan approximately 120,000 military and civilian lives, and tens of thousands later lost their lives which has been attributed to exposure to radiation from the bombs (2017). Although the bombings occurred 72 years ago, one can assume that the citizens of Japan await an apology from the United States. With this in mind, according to the Los Angeles Times, a Russian news agency conducted an opinion poll in 2015 and found that 60% of the Japanese public would welcome an apology (Adelstein 2016). Despite the results of the Russian poll in Japan, the United States has not apologized. Why not? Research indicates that the United States’ apology track record after committing atrocities is lacking at best. However, there is another reason that the United States refrains from apologizing to Japan. An apology might create difficulties rather than solve issues for Japan’s government. Macdonald argues that, “apologizing for past wrongs also requires a bringing of those wrongs into view” (16). If the United States was to apologize for its wrongdoings during World War II, logic would indicate that society would then look to Japan’s government officials to apologize for the atrocities committed by Japan throughout its history. According to Adelstein, Japanese officials are concerned that an apology from the United Stated would “only serve to energize anti-nuclear activists” in Japan (2016). Concerned about the issues that could arise from receiving an apology, Japanese officials prefer to move forward rather than dwell on their painful past.

Is it feasible for one nation to absolve itself of an atrocity if the victimized nation prefers no apology? It can be possible through cooperative understanding and mutual hope for a better future. Macdonald calls for “public acknowledgement” of difficult heritage, which does not necessarily require an apology (6). Nations such as the United States and Japan can acknowledge their difficult heritages without formally apologizing for committing the atrocities. In May of 2016 United States President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima. Likewise, in December of 2016 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor. During their visits, both leaders offered condolences for lives lost, however neither leader apologized for their nations’ atrocities (Sisk 2016). Although no formal apologies were exchanged, both leaders publicly acknowledged their nation’s difficult heritage. Mutual understanding of the cost of war, particularly the loss of human life, has enabled the United States and Japan to move forward and become powerful allies. Since both Japan and the United States understand the devastation that nuclear weapons can cause, their alliance provides hope for a better future where other nations are deterred from utilizing nuclear weaponry.

Acknowledging difficult heritage offers opportunities in multiple realms of education. It opens the academic door for more in-depth discussions regarding war crimes, the aftermath of atrocities, reconciliation among nations, and the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from difficult heritage. Library and information professions continue to refine their educational platforms which provide insight and understanding regarding a nation’s difficult heritage. Museums and archives presently showcase the atrocities and expose the human necessity to educate current and future generations in regards to the importance of preventing similar atrocities from ever occurring again. The significance of acknowledging difficult heritage is that it inspires mankind to progress towards compassion, forgiveness, and pursuing closure.

 

Works Cited

Adelstein, Jake. 2016. Los Angeles Times. “Japan doesn’t want the U.S. to apologize for bombing Hiroshima. Here’s why.” Los Angeles Times. Last Modified April 29, 2016. Accessed September 24, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-na-japan-hiroshima-apology-20160429-story.html.

History.com. 2009. Accessed September 24, 2017. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki.

Macdonald, Sharon. 2015. “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” Museum International 67: 6-22.

Sisk, Richard. 2016. “Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Military.com. Last Modified December 28, 2016. Accessed September 24, 2017. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/12/28/remorse-no-apology-japanese-leader-pearl-harbor.html.

 

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