Fashion has long been intertwined with culture. Serving more than a utilitarian function, clothes, their craftsmanship, styles, fabrics, and cuts are utilised by cultures around the world as a way to connect, express beliefs and customs, share histories, and pass on traditions. In fact, fashion is a pillar of culture; be it in your small neighbourhood in Brooklyn or Singapore City, or your ethnic background or family. ¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today, an exhibition mounted at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City during the summer of 2023, exhibited garments from many Latin American and Latinx designers whose work was inspired by and contributed to their culture. The exhibition, which featured the blending of many Latinx cultures, explored themes of cultural hybridity as well.

For our exhibition Cross-Pollination: ¡Moda Hoy! at the Museum at FIT, hybridity refers to the fusion and merging of cultures, which results in the creation of something novel. One of the ways in which hybridity emerges is through the experiences of people subjected to colonisation; the subsequent migrations of people and their cultures amalgamated new cultural identities. The mingling of different faiths and religions, styles, and aesthetics expressed through clothing, underscores how fashion can not only serve as a tangible expression of a cultural synthesis but also as inspiration foregrounding new talent. While the concept of hybridity is intriguing, with it comes several concerns, such as the risk of cultural appropriation. Museum institutions have long been recognised as colonial spaces. Favouring the wealthy and educated, they often care little for provenance, and there are entry barriers. The restitution of stolen objects is only a first step, as institutions must reflect on their internal operations and strive to diversify those with power. ¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today, utilised the concept of decentering the museum as it was curated through a decentering lens. In turn, this lens continues with Cross Pollination: ¡Moda Hoy! By including student artists, this exhibition works to shift the focus off of the museum and onto the individuals who created the work and their stories. This effort to decenter the museum through careful curation and display of student art can help lead to more voices being heard, preventing the systems of the past being perpetuated. As emerging curators, we have placed the voices of the artists first; a step we believe is essential to decentering the museum.

The exhibition is divided into three main themes: “Myth and Rituals,” “Beliefs and Economics of Care,” and “Activism and Resistance.” These topics are derived from and respond to key themes in ¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today. The displays explore themes of art, sustainability, politics, craftsmanship, pop culture, heritage, and more. “Myths and Rituals” focuses on exploring myths, traditions, and practices. Students express themes of folklore, oral stories, and more in their own cultures for their work through a contemporary lens. “Beliefs and Economics of Care” refers to the ancient practices and cosmologies that guide a sustainable belief system for those of the culture. This theme led students to explore natural techniques, sustainability, and practices that connect to the earth. “Activism and Resistance” takes direct influence from ¡Moda Hoy! Latin American and Latinx Fashion Design Today, as many designers used their works to critique the social, political, and environmental issues surrounding their communities. Likewise, student artists created works that comment on, and call for, change in their communities. These themes, together with a deeper exploration of decentering traditional museum exhibitions, allowed students at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore and at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to portray their cultures through their own perspectives and voices in the creative process of making.

As we shift our focus to the narratives set by the student artists rather than the narratives imposed by museums, we gain a more accurate understanding of practices and traditions from cultures we display. Cross-Pollination: ¡Moda Hoy!, a student-led exhibition between students in Singapore and New York City, highlights creative talents from different continents, as the participating artists express their cultures and interpretations of hybridity through fashion. From avant-garde eyewear inspired by Chinese Opera, to a dress with sprouting “mushrooms” in the image of the Hindu god Vishnu, the exhibition explores contemporary ideas of culture, tradition, and activism. It has made us proud to witness the creative process with admiration and inspiration.

Garment by Divya Gupta
Fashion Institute Of Technology

Garment by Kassia Engelmann
Fashion Institute Of Technology

Photography by Danny Alvarado
Fashion Institute Of Technology

Model by Angelina Rataj, Priya Adhikary