9th February – 6th May 2018
Everyone wears them. They often go unnoticed. Then what is so exciting about a t-shirt? T-shirts exist not only for practical purposes but for personal reasons too. Usefully, the Fashion and Textiles Museum located in Bermondsey acknowledges such an underrated but vital garment which everyone uses on a global scale. Having noted the themes ranging across the exhibition, I picked up on art, illustration, sex, the LGBT society, politics, war, violence, personal statements, animals, music and nudity. How can a piece of fabric, sewn together with thread and hung on the upper body, become so malleable for such relevant, current issues?
The setting of the exhibition is minimal, industrial and metal. This is not only practical but asserts the purpose of the exhibition; to analyse the variety of t-shirts provided. The music is cheerful and upbeat; this makes visitors feel engaged and respond positively to the exhibition. The creation of the t-shirt is claimed to have started in 500 AD, while the first t-shirt created for advertising originated from the Wizard of Oz (1939) screening. History, utility and profit are highlighted and show the significance and importance of a piece of fabric.
The t-shirts exhibited range from simple white crew necks with a political statement or sleeveless shirts splattered with pornographic images. A few favourites were ‘Wear a Condom’ or ‘This is what a Feminist looks like’. While the colours, images and words were overwhelming, the message was admirable and simple; t-shirts can be personal and universal whilst being disruptive.
Included is a private collection of Vivienne Westwood t-shirts from the 70s-punk era and artist Susan Barnett’s mini-exhibition ‘A Typology of T-Shirts’. Extreme spectrums of disruption and vulgarity are provided alongside simplistic photographs of faceless strangers with a main message; to be defined by t-shirts along the likes of ‘She Screams My Name’. A simple introduction to techniques used to create t-shirts and a free, sophistically presented newspaper to summarise the purpose of the exhibition are offered too.
This exhibition proves that fashion is not exclusive to the minority. It differs to many exhibitions too, since it focuses on material evidence and not literary evidence. This makes it easy for the variety of ages attending to walk around and who do not necessarily wish to read the descriptions. Messages presented on the t-shirts are obvious or discreet, witty or offensive, sad or happy. It presents the obvious; fashion is a communicative tool and underlines the importance of self-portrayal to many.