The Stories We Wear, Penn Museum’s newest art exhibition
The exhibition showcases 2,500 years of style and how what we wear connects people through the ages.
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The items we wear and collect can often have a lot of meaning behind it — whether historical, sentimental or cultural.
The Stories We Wear, Penn Museum’s newest art exhibit, takes a dive into the meaning and history behind more than 200 fashion and apparel items.
“Museum work at its core is about telling stories,” said Dr. Christopher Woods, the Williams Director at the Penn Museum, at a press preview on Sept. 23. “And What We Wear, these stories are fascinating, timeless and often transformative.”
He added that the new exhibit creates a new way to make archaeology and anthropology accessible to everyone, through style and fashion.
The full exhibition is arranged into five themes: performance, work and play, battle, ceremony and rule.
“We chose these five themes because they allowed us to show how meaningful what we wear is, and has been in different times and places,” said Dr. Lauren Ristvet, Robert H. Dyson Curator in the Penn Museum’s near east section. “Letting us both connect the present to the past, but also understand how very different societies have approached the same problems.”
From dresses to battle armor, from jewelry to tattoos, and uniforms to regalia, the exhibit features a wide array of items — all with history, purpose and meaning behind them.
Lauren Cooper, interpretive planner in the exhibitions department at the Penn Museum, told AL DÍA that the idea for creating this exhibit came from a previous one the Penn Museum displayed from about 80 to 90 years ago.
“We wanted to kind of take a look at that and see how our interpretations of those stories had changed over the years,” she said. “And it really evolved into what you see here, which is more about complete ensembles and how the things that we put on our bodies have important meaning both to us as individuals, and also in the greater cultural context.”
Some of the items included in the exhibit are from Penn’s own collections, but throughout the process of putting it together, further connections throughout the city were able to be made which helped also produce a more contemporary story.
“A lot of the artifacts in our collection are more historic or even ancient, but we were able to [also] look at some of these traditions that are ongoing and that really enhance the story,” added Cooper.
Brigitte Keslinke, a Ph.D. student in the art and archaeology of the Mediterranean world program at Penn, was a student curator for the exhibition.
Her role was to work on the curatorial team and conduct research to put together the text that explains the meaning and context for many of the ensembles displayed in the exhibit.
“This is something that I think as students, even as graduate students, we don’t have many opportunities to do, but the Penn Museum is really invested in getting students involved in the process,” she told AL DÍA.
“I learned a lot about working in a museum, working on an exhibition, telling stories with objects to a public audience, as opposed to the kind of academic work that I more typically do,” she added. “I really gained a lot of experience in talking to a broader audience, thinking about why these stories matter to people.”
The Stories We Wear exhibit will officially open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 25 and will remain on display through June 12, 2022. Tickets can be found here.