Last year, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art hosted the student-run exhibit “Don’t Touch My Hair” to open up a conversation about hair, identity and race on the University of Oregon campus. This year, the co-curator of “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Kristen Clayton, came back as the creative project manager and curator with another group of students to tackle a new concept: clothing. “We took the key focal point of “Don’t Touch My Hair” and made an entire exhibition out of that same concept — the concept of duality and aesthetic expression,” said Clayton.
“Common Thread” follows a similar theme to “Don’t Touch My Hair,” as its primary focus is on self-expression, identity and diversity, though it is now showing these concepts through the lens of fashion. Clayton brought together a team of two other co-curators, two photographers and a videographer to form a team that was powered entirely by students.
Together they designed an exhibit that shows various students from diverse backgrounds. Each student who participated as a model was photographed in their own set of two images. One image shows them wearing the clothing that they wear to present themselves to the rest of the student body on campus, and the second is of them wearing clothing that they feel most represents themselves — the side others might not ever see. The models who participated are all students who felt that they had an aesthetic story to share and volunteered themselves to the project.
“I found little pieces of myself within each story that was told. There are parts that I personally can relate to. That’s the ‘common thread,’ because we all share some sort of common ground we can find in the ways we relate to one another.” said Clayton.
The walls of the JSMA hallways are covered in images of various UO students in many different kinds of clothing. Some picture students wearing clothing bright in color, some in clothing that represents their cultural background and some in traditional street clothes. Each individual image is personal to the subject it is representing and displays not only their clothing of choice, but also their personality in the way that they chose to be photographed.
“It’s a great way to look into the life of someone else, to look and think about the way people express themselves,” said Ugo Akabike, an exhibit photographer, who studies art and business at UO.
“The meaning of common thread is showing how factors in our lives affect how we dress. To open the conversation about why we wear what we wear and what is important about what we wear,” said Taite Stull, co-creator.
The inspiration for the exhibit came from the images displayed in the “Don’t Touch My Hair” exhibit of UO alumni Jaria Martin, who graduated last year. Patrons of the “Don’t Touch My Hair” exhibit commented on the way that Martin was dressed in her images and how they interpreted her personality based solely upon her clothing which opened up the conversation about representation in clothing.
The exhibit highlights students from a myriad of races, ethnicities, genders, social circles and cultures. Each image represents the things that make individuals the way that they are, and how these factors change the way that they dress. The exhibit also speaks to life-changing events that have changed the way an individual might dress.
Each subject was able to tell their own story in an interview with the photographers and curators before their images were shot, which is displayed alongside their images in the JSMA. “Hearing their stories opened my mind. I heard so many different stories and so many different perspectives that I would have never understood,” said Jonathan Roensch, an exhibit photographer and third year advertising and french student.
The individual stories of those involved speak to what their clothing means to them and how they feel they are judged by those that surround them. This exhibit serves as a platform for the participants to express themselves artistically — as well as have a conversation about individuality within clothing in a safe environment.
“The exhibition is a portal,” said Clayton. “You walk into the exhibition and you’re going to walk out with a new view of the world and as a different person just based upon reading the perspective of other students.”
The Common Thread Exhibit is on display through September 8th. The JSMA is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Entry is $5, $3 for people 62 and up and free for members, UO students and faculty.