ARTIQ Artist Liaison Sara Tenti reviews ‘T-shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion’

In the last couple of years, the manifestation of early-onset nostalgia has been extensively explored by journalists and writers and defined as a general feeling permeating contemporary western society and affecting our everyday behavior. Millennials proclaim their nostalgia for the early 2000s, fashion goes through a 90s revival and Spotify’s most popular playlists are made up of greatest hits we’ve heard a million times before. We tend to long for different times, mostly part of our very recent history, and, despite their social and political struggle, we perceive them as more positive than the present. The exhibition ‘T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion’, open until 6th May 2018 at The Fashion and Design Museum, seems directly connected to this phenomenon. The feeling of nostalgia will accompany you while wandering around the displays that feature more than 100 T- Shirts, including the rarest and most iconic, groundbreaking and popular examples.

Thematically organized, the curation explores the meaning and ever-changing aesthetics of the garment in relation to politics, music, gender identity and technology. Spanning over 50 years of history, the exhibition begins with a condensed timeline of selected milestones in the life of the T- shirt followed by a small section dedicated to its typologies and printing techniques. The exhibition continues throughout two floors of the museum with the aim of providing not a biography, but an extensive overview of the cultural influence of this so common as well as unique garment.

Colorful logos, words and images interact with each other and capture the viewer’s attention. The exhibition layout echoes the barricades of riots, the metal fences and stages of festivals, as well as catwalks and boutiques.

Among this vibrant and almost overwhelming display, the collections dedicated to the punk movement and agitprop stand out most with their bold designs and transgressive slogans. Creations by Vivienne Westwood, Katherine Hamnett and Malcom Mclaren are heavily featured throughout the show. Despite still being groundbreaking and relevant in today’s society, they also inevitably raise the question of the value and authenticity of ‘subversion’ when, after being originated within the underground culture, they become a polished product of mainstream fashion. Our society tends more and more to blur the lines between these two aspects, as showcased in the section dedicated to the T-shirt as a fashion statement, featuring examples from the first collection by Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri who emblazoned her models’ T-shirts with the words ‘We Should All Be Feminists’.

The extremely varied selection of T-shirts offers the opportunity to analyse the show from different perspectives and ultimately not only brings attention to political and social issues of our past and present but also seems to inspire a call to action that goes way beyond nostalgia. ‘T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion’ reminds the viewer of the relevance of what we think and do as individuals and positively emphasizes that expressing our ideas and believes can make the difference, even when it seems as irrelevant or small as a slogan written on a T-shirt.

Written by Sara Tenti, Artist Liaison, ARTIQ

Exhibition details:
‘T-shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion’
The Fashion and Design Museum
9 February – 6 May
http://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/t-shirt-cult-culture-subversion/