“Powder Box” by Marlon Griffiths

In August I wrote a light little blog post on the controversial legislative trend of banning those loose, low-slung jeans generally identified with young black men. Some people consider the issue trivial, but others see saggy pants as a gateway to brazen criminality—not least of all the public officials inscribing their concerns into municipal codes. Also Barack Obama, who’s on record opining that “brothers should pull up their pants.”

Overdetermined readings of style may’ve been on Camille Morgan’s mind when she curated “Black Gossamer,” a group show in which artists of African descent use clothing and fashion to meditate on their anxiety about social expectations. How do black people “perform” their blackness, both within and outside black culture? And what do their sartorial choices say?

Some of the anxiety is clearly about consumer culture. For his “Powder Box” series, Marlon Griffiths used baby powder to stencil corporate logos on the chests of dark-skinned women in school uniforms, thus drawing links between a West Indian working-class tradition and contemporary branding practices. Other anxieties are more ambiguously expressed. In Myra Greene’s Pinkpillow (part of her 2001 “Hairy Pillows” collection), human hair adorns—sometimes seems to be stuffing—ordinary pillows. And in Aisha Bell‘s Chameleon, a lone black woman sits in a field of silhouettes cut from various fabrics, wearing only underclothes. Bell and Ebony Patterson give a gallery talk called “Taboo Fashion and Chameleon Identities,” Friday, 11 AM.