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Dario Calmese, Decolonizing the Gaze: Words and Images as Fashion Provocations

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Dario Calmese is a true Renaissance Man. A multi-hyphenate, Calmese is an artist, writer, director, and brand consultant whose work reaches across the fields of art, academia, and fashion

In fact, he is no stranger to our industry, having worked with the CFDA, Public School, and LaQuan Smith, for example, and collaborated with Kerby Jean-Raymond on his groundbreaking Pyer Moss shows.

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The latest exhibition at projects+gallery opens Friday, and it’s an intriguing one. St. Louis–bred and New York–based performer, artist, and curator Dario Calmese has pulled together an incredible slate of work from black and brown artists with local, national, and international prominence. Their work in conversation explores the question of apparel as a critical piece of communication. Fashioning the Black Body opens Friday with a reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and runs through May 4. It features work from Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, Basil Kincaid, Kenturah Davis, Renee Cox, and more. “It’s really looking at the ways in which black and brown artists use the fashion object as a storytelling device or narrative in their work,” says Calmese. “I chose artists where the garment is a critical role in the storytelling.” The exhibition, years in the works, came about as Calmese was pondering the ways in which black people have used fashion and garments: “a device of protection, a device of projection, and in a way, a level of armor or a membrane between the gaze that they feel and then what they’re trying to project out into the world,” he says. He was inspired by Kerry James Marshall’s exhibition Mastry at the Met Breuer.

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To summarize, no amount of praise or censure affects me, in my current role, so much as the hope that our choices might inspire a young person—a future actor, director, photographer, writer—to pursue their own creative vision or imagine themself in our pages. Iconography carries influence. I think about the magazine cover that hangs in my living room, the 1964 Time portrait of Thelonious Monk, painted by Boris Chaliapin. They are in a room backstage, or perhaps in a hotel—there is a small shelf of books behind Monk—and my father has pulled out an encyclopedia and paged to the M’s and found, among the popes and presidents, what he was looking for. “ ‘Thelonious,’ ” he reads. “ ‘Thelonious Sphere

Born 1918?’ Question mark.” Dad laughs. “ ‘U.S. jazz pianist and composer.’ It appears you’re famous, Thelonious.” Monk replies: “I’m famous. Ain’t that a bitch.” Fame meant far less than his art. But he knew it made a difference.

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