by Anna Tillman
Ruth E. Carter is an extraordinarily talented woman. She has the ability to take pieces of fabric and create beautiful art that expresses diverse cultures and complex themes. Carter is an Academy Award-winning costume designer who is renowned for creating costumes for “Black Panther” (2018), “Malcolm X” (1992), “Coming 2 America” (2021), “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and many more. Her commitment to and investment in her work is incredibly inspiring.
The Taubman Museum of Art is giving people a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Carter’s artistry and dedication to her work by experiencing it in person. They are showcasing the “Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design” exhibit. Reading about her work and seeing pictures of it does not do it justice – it is a visual masterpiece that everyone needs to witness with their own eyes.
Wandering through this exhibit is truly an unforgettable experience. Every article of clothing is inherently different, and the style of design is vastly individual, yet nothing feels out of place in the setup. In this exhibit, nothing is without purpose. Even the props surrounding the costumes have significance. In one of the rooms, a backdrop of detailed wooden planks frames the costumed mannequins. The wood is the perfect backdrop to set the mood for the room, as it symbolizes the wood planks of the boats that slaves were forced to go on.
Another small detail that carries great significance are the movie titles written under the costumes. They are not only written in English, but also in Wakandan. This is a very subtle, yet highly significant element of the exhibit. “Black Panther” is Carter’s most well-known film, and its themes of Black excellence and power radiate throughout her entire body of work. Writing the movie titles in Wakandan draws attention to the qualities that Black Panther, the noble, powerful king of Wakanda, shares with all of the influential figures in the room. All of Carter’s films explore ideas of heroes working to the best of their abilities: very similar to the way that she approaches her own work.
As the viewer progresses through the exhibit, the essence of each film can be felt by the presence and presentation of Carter’s vibrant costumes. It is like walking into another dimension full of movie magic. Up close, the intricate detailing of all the costumes can be seen: every bead, seam and embroidery, fully on display. Getting a glimpse of the details put into this work is a breathtaking experience unlike any other.
“Afrofuturism in Costume Design” will be open to the public this Sunday, Nov. 14. Roanoke students, as institutional members of the Taubman Museum of Art, can have free admission to the exhibit if they show their Maroon Cards. Carter’s exhibit will be open until April 3, 2022, so there is plenty of time to witness the grandeur. Her incredible work needs to be shared and appreciated by as many people as possible. Don’t pass up the opportunity to experience this awe-inspiring showcase – it will leave you speechless.