Campus News

Wearing Their Hearts on Their Sleeves and Then Some

February 27, 2013
Cynthia Nickoloff

In July 2009,  Brooklyn-based artist Aisha Cousins, Oberlin Class of 2000, took a vow to wear fabrics bearing Barack Obama’s image every day for one year — until, she says, her friends and neighbors began to see them, and perhaps the mindset they represented, as normal.

Cousins was first introduced to political fabrics about 15 years ago, when she visited Senegal. “Of all the things I saw in Dakar, I remember those fabrics with the black presidential candidates most,” she says. Clothing made from commemorative portrait fabrics is part of popular culture in more than 24 African countries. At least five African countries—Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, and South Africa—have printed fabric honoring the United States' first black president, Barack Obama.

From Cousins’ year-long experience grew the Story Skirt Project, a live art project in which black women from U.S. families work with African designers and photographers to make skirts or other clothes from the Obama fabrics. Participants document their experiences and vow to leave the skirts and their stories to future family members, passing on history through fabric, much like previous generations did through quilts.

Cousins has curated an exhibition, African Obama Fabrics and the Story Skirt Project, that contains examples of African fabrics commemorating President Obama and photographs of and testimonials from some of the Story Skirt Project participants. The exhibition is on view in the Baron Gallery through March 1.

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