On Thursday, 26 March 2020, Draginja Maskareli Senior Curator, Textile and Costume Collection Museum of Applied Art, Belgrade, Serbia, wrote the following:
The exhibition 'Fashion in Modern Serbia' was held in the Museum of Applied Art in Belgrade, Serbia, from 6 November 2019 until 31 January 2020. It presented a selection of 81 fashion items from the 19th and early 20th centuries held by the Museum’s Textile and Costume Collection, accompanied with reproductions of bourgeois portraits and documentary materials from different public and private collections.
The exhibited items witnessed the dynamic changes of the fashion system and society in 19th century Serbia, accompanied with the establishment of new cultural models with a local imprint and the adoption of cultural models common in middle class Europe.
While interpreting fashion as part of visual culture, the exhibition stressed its importance for visual representation and identity construction among individuals, members of ruling families and the bourgeois class in modern Serbia. Accordingly, the national costume, constructed after 1830 from the nationalised elements of the “traditional” Ottoman-Balkan clothing inventory, was interpreted in the context of the newly accepted European fashion system.
Keeping track of the 19th century transition from the Ottoman-Balkan cultural model to the inclusion into the European system of modern fashion, the exhibition showed fashion-related changes that were not only visible in the forms of clothing, but also in the way of its production and market placement.
For me, as the curator of the exhibition, the experiences provided by the TRC Intensive Textile Course I attended in Leiden in November 2018 was very important. I am fully aware of the significance of digital technologies in contemporary museum presentation, yet I believe that museum exhibitions should continue to focus on “real” objects and that all other tools should help out curators in telling stories about “real” objects in an interesting and appealing way.
So, I was delighted when the exhibition architect Aleksandra Tosman suggested that we create an interactive section with “real” objects – different kinds of fabrics used in 19th and early 20th century clothing production, which the audience would be allowed to touch, unlike the rest of the exhibited items. We immediately knew that our interactive part, as well as the whole exhibition, must not be cluttered, but simple, interesting and clear.
Having in mind the experience from the TRC Intensive Textile Course, I suggested that we tell to the audience a short story about the fabrics that the exhibited clothes were made of. We chose three basic fibres to show: cotton, silk and wool, and exhibited them first as raw fibres, then as spun yarns and finally as different kinds of fabrics, such as cotton cloth and silk satin.
It was quite a challenge to find pure cotton, silk and wool in the form of fibre, yarn and fabric. Today’s fabrics are so different from those of the past that we wanted to present. Fortunately, we found some materials in the museum’s conservation studio, but we had to put much effort to complete our “installation”. We looked for and into small “curiosity” stalls and searched online shops thoroughly for cotton stuffing that was not actually made of polyester, and even reached for forgotten fabric stocks in our parents’ closets.
Our “installation” was officially named Contact Point, but we nicknamed it Touch Screen. And, what is most important, it was worth the effort, because the visitors really liked it and understood it. We were so happy when a few days after the exhibition opening we saw a visitor’s photo of our Contact Point shared on Instagram with the description: “To understand the clothes you wear”. Just as Dr Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood was telling us during the TRC Intensive Textile Course in Leiden: “It is important to understand”!