My goal for the Barnes Shop during exhibitions is to have a selection of merchandise that captures the feeling of the show, and gives our visitors a chance to take home a part of that experience to use in their everyday lives. Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders, on display in the Roberts gallery through April 21, is a wonderful opportunity for colorful and vibrant product development. My primary influences were the richly patterned and brightly colored Dutch wax-printed fabrics that Shonibare uses, and the intermingling of cultural influences in his work. This layered mélange of patterns and influences is the predominant inspiration of the Barnes Shop this season.
I brought this “Shonibare” style into the shop in three ways. The first is offering products made from the same Vlisco brand fabric that the artist uses in his sculptures. Vlisco is the leading industrial manufacturer of wax cloth, and while it’s commonly called “African waxprint” and thought to be synonymous with many West African fashions, Dutch wax fabric is derived from Indonesian batik cloth and manufactured in the Netherlands—a commercial story that is a vital part of the comments on multiculturalism in Shonibare’s work.
With our signature infinity scarf (above), visitors to the Barnes can take home a versatile, one-size-fits-all piece of these contrasting fabrics to add to their own wardrobe. Or for their home or office, they can choose from a variety of Vlisco-covered handbound notebooks and sketchbooks.
For this category, I focused on providing a high-quality handmade product from American artisans and craftspeople. This adds another layer to Shonibare’s multicultural message: just as the Dutch took Indonesian techniques to create fabric for an African market, now we are translating that to an American audience with distinctly American-made product and style. Our handbound books were made exclusively for our store by bookbinders Tracy Lam (of Lam Books in San Mateo, California) and Alice Johnson (of Piping Hot Papers in Detroit, Michigan). Our Vlisco textile handbags were produced by Karie Reinertson (Shelter Protects You, Ashville, North Carolina) from her original designs.
Secondly, I expanded this colorful mix and returned to an African story by bringing in African-made wax cloth products. One of my favorite collections in this category comes from the Sankofa Center, a nonprofit organization in Ghana that focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention, education, counseling, and testing. The fabric for these products is designed and printed in Ghana, a true African cloth, and sales of their fair-trade products support the Sankofa Center’s educational programs.
I particularly like this oversized market bag, which is big enough for a laundry basket or overnight bag, but works just as well as an attention-getting tote, to shift scale and proportion for a street style with a strong dose of fun and playfulness.
The third layer of influence in our retail mix is that of other global textiles and patterned fabrics, particularly Indian Kantha fabrics. Kantha cloth is a hand-stitched quilted fabric that uses old cotton saris, and layers contrasting patterns and colors into singular new designs. The selection of Kantha products in the Barnes Shop includes jackets by designer Joanna John. John creates fashionable double-sided clothing: each piece reverses to another color/pattern, showing off the detailed complexity of fabrics that have lived long lives, from saris to heirloom quilts to contemporary clothing.
Together, the Dutch Vlisco fabric, the African waxcloth, and the Kantha fabric fill the store with a multi-layered cultural quilt of global textile influence that echoes the experience in our exhibition gallery. Unfortunately, since so many of these pieces are handmade and completely one-of-a-kind, they won’t be available in our online store, and require a visit to the Parkway to appreciate. One of my delights in working with this particular collection has been finding how even pieces cut from the same bolt of fabric look quite different from one another in person, because of the scale and drama of these statement fabrics. In this way, each of these items is its own original work of art.
The Barnes Shop also offers a fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition, including photos of the sculptures commissioned for the exhibition.
Photo credit: Jay Thomson
Models: Claire Aelion-Moss, Emily Knitter, Emily Oluoch