Fashion, Culture, Futures: African American Ingenuity, Activism, and Storytelling

Brendan Fernandes
June 29, 2021

Fashion, Culture, Futures: African American Ingenuity, Activism, and Storytelling is a two-part symposium co-organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Presented virtually Thursday, June 17, and Thursday, Oct. 21, both programs bring together academics, designers, critics, models, artists, activists and others to share new perspectives on the relationship between fashion and the African American experience.

Part one of the symposium tackles the complex network of artists, innovators and image makers that influence the field of fashion. Inspired by Cooper Hewitt’s current Willi Smith: Street Couture exhibition and Willi Smith’s efforts to use fashion to express broader ideas about representation, inclusion and diversity, the program illuminates how African American creatives are leading innovation and change within the contemporary fashion system.


Welcome remarks are given by Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian, and Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar, interim director of Cooper Hewitt.


Modest fashion and style birthed from queer experiences have been historically excluded by social and political codes and misappropriated by the broader fashion system. Moderated by Cooper Hewitt’s Education Associate Darnell-Jamal Lisby, this conversation explores ways these systemic pitfalls have been creatively combatted. Speakers include the Founder of UMMA Models Shannie, and artist Brendan Fernandes.