15 November 2019


CLOSED WORKSHOP | 14 & 15 November | RCMC

Moving objects from one cultural frame of reference to another for example from ethnography to fashion – challenges not only curators, museums and museum goers, but invites a close interrogation of both the structural limits and perceived aordances of the various disciplines at stake (anthropology, ethnography, history, fashion studies and practice, etc.). Various projects are already responding to this challenge, inviting artists, curators and community members to re-mediate objects from ethnographic museum collections, to reframe, re-imagine and restage these objects. We propose to rethink confluences of history, museum practices and aesthetic concepts, engendering a decolonized concept of fashion by exploring principles and qualities of fashion in objects that have previously been denied a fashion status.

This two-day workshop will work through these aims to produce a new and inclusive statement on fashion curation, set within the context of the National Museum of World Cultures in the Netherlands and the unique potential of this ethnographic collection.  

Change has been used as the hallmark of Western fashion uniqueness. The perceived timelessness of folk, tribal and other indigenous clothing systems has excluded and precluded them from the conceptual domain of fashion. Bodily adornment is a human universal; we propose to highlight the universal dynamism in that phenomenon to put into relief the perniciously fallacious construct of fashion as exclusively Western.  Our inclusive strategy facilitates the emergence of diverse fashion histories and narratives. At the same time, our strategy propels the ethnographic museum to the forefront of fashion reconceptualization. Decolonizing the ethnographic museum is key to revising persistent ideas about fashion, while decolonizing fashion is an indispensable driver for revitalizing the ethnographic museum.


Museums in the twenty-first century are progressively being tasked to decolonize, with many already addressing past injustices, confronting difficult heritages, and making eorts to rewrite histories and re-imagine worlds. Similarly, the Western fashion system has been tasked to re-form, radically challenging the foundations of luxury, power and distinction encoded in its ideologies. Confrontations to the dominant fashion system, such as the problematic politics and economics of production, diverse environmental catastrophes and outspoken appropriation activism, are collectively impacting on fashion’s definitions and responsibilities. The conceptualization of fashion is in radical flux - but the cross-cultural component is still too often absent. The leadership of ethnographic museums can make an important and significant difference.


The RCDF proposes a two-day interdisciplinary workshop, tailored to the needs of the National Museum of World Cultures (NMWC) in The Netherlands and the rich possibilities in its stores, and by extension of relevance to wider ethnographic collecting and fashion theory. The programme will be object led, utilizing a variety of strategies to support object-centred discussion and bringing together curators and thinkers who have a range of international and disciplinary contexts and experiences of reformulating and decolonizing fashion. The workshop will explore the effects of rethinking fashion, strategies for recontextualizing fashion, and the outcomes of situating museum objects of adornment as ‘fashion. Crucially, we propose a think-tank approach in order to collaboratively identify new tools for thinking about fashion objects, and push the envelope of decolonial aordances.

Considering the related economies of belonging and identity shared by museums and fashion, the workshop will open up and interrupt histories, objects and practices in the present, so as to inform alternative, urgently needed fashion histories and narratives and new curatorial approaches. The workshop will conclude with the production of a collaboratively authored draft document on the curatorial futures of fashion objects in the ethnographic museum.


Alison Moloney [tbc]

Angela Jansen

Carol Tulloch

Daan van Dartel

Erica de Greef

Kimberly Jenkins

Lesiba Mabitsela

Peter Lee

Riley Kucheran

Rolando Vazquez

Sandra Niessen

Sarah Cheang