The newest addition to the Smithsonian family of museums is being opened in a grand ceremony by President Obama on Saturday. The museum has been in the making the last 8 years and is exceptional in its depth, range and its physical beauty.
I had the great honor of having some of my designs for women in their permanent collection. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that your contribution to the business of fashion will be preserved well beyond ones lifetime. This past weekend Donors and Patrons to the museum were invited for a preview reception. The building from its place on the mall is very unusual in its shape, color and texture. The architect David Adjaye clad the outside of the building in cast steel the color of patinated bronze. It is an homage to the enslaved African Americans whose intricate metalwork graces much of Louisiana, South Carolina and elsewhere. Up close it could also mimic the pattern of welts left on the backs of slaves. The sale of the building is enormous. There are 3 levels visible from the ground with 2 more floors below ground.
Its a very powerful and emotional experience going from gallery to gallery starting with the story of captured men, women and children in Africa and their harrowing and horrific journey to America and a life of slavery. The information and objects from that period are vast complete with scale models of the ships filled with the African people packed in like match sticks. A constructed slave’s cabin, shackles, whips, documentation of the numbers of human beings captured and sold. The effect of coming face to face with my ancestors experience is very difficult to articulate.
The museum brings you from that violent beginning through Emancipation, the Civil War, the northern migration, to the Civil Rights movement and up to present. African American Culture is examined and displayed in a multitude of areas; sports, entertainment, music, education, fashion, the arts, politics, and more. The richness of our history is so varied and influential to the larger world here and elsewhere. As one of a handful of African American designers I’m thrilled to be included in their collection. There were many Donors there that I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting. The mood was so joyous and uplifting.
Knowing that it comes at the end of the President’s term in office makes it especially sweet. My mother, as you can imagine, can barely contain her pride and happiness for me. It’s very touching for her to witness this monument to our history and culture. As a young woman growing up in the segregated South of the 30’s, 40, and 50’s she had first hand experience of racism in its most vile iteration. There’s a symmetry to its inauguration. It both shows us where we’ve come and also that there’s still so much more to go before we can be free. I encourage everyone to go and visit the new Smithsonian. You’ll be amazed.