Black Masking Culture

Roy Guste Photography

As part of London Design Festival at the V&A, the museum is displaying the Mardi Gras Indian suits of Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters. The Black Masking Culture exhibition is the first time that the suits can be seen outside of the United States.

Contemporary artist and educator, Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters, and Assemble have collaborated with the V&A to bring Melancon’s huge Mardi Gras Indian suits composed of intricately hand-sewn beadwork to the Tapestries Gallery. The suits, illustrating actual and imagined events from African and American history, will sit in the gallery among rare tapestries from 1425, depicting hunting scenes of boars, bears, swans, otters, deer and falconry.

Spirit of Red Cloud 2014, photo credit Christopher 'Porche' West.

Melancon’s complex and multidimensional portrayals draw inspiration from indigenous people in America and enslaved Africans and feature imagery rich with symbolism and meaning. The finely crafted pieces address stereotypical representations of black people and tell powerful stories from Melancon’s experience of the African diaspora.

When Melancon was 14 years old, he had the opportunity to learn from several influential elder Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs. They not only taught him how to sew and bead intricate suits, but also about the history and traditions of the Black Masking Culture of New Orleans – which began over 200 years ago. 

Red Cloud & Sitting Bull 2013

Melancon is based in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Assemble has recently established The Material Institute, a new space for the design and manufacture of garments, textiles and fashion. The Institute’s programme is designed to encourage learning through hands on experimentation in both traditional craft and high fashion. Big Chief Demond is one of the founding teachers at the school.

During his time in London, Melancon will be participating in focused talks and workshops alongside emerging designers, institutions, and organisations with the V&A’s partners the Smithsonian, British Council, and London College of Fashion

Black Masking Culture, V&A, Saturday, 14 – Sunday, 22 September 2019

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