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Southern Utah museum features corsets throughout history

Southern Utah museum features corsets throughout history

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You've probably heard of Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and Picasso's "Guernica." Now get ready for your new favorite work of art: the corset.

You read that correctly. The centuries-old, tight-fitting undergarment that was used to create a defined hourglass shape is more than just a shaping tool. The corset has a rich and artistic history, which few people have appreciated. Until now.

Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA), on the campus of Southern Utah University, is currently presenting a historical timeline and contemporary perspectives of corsetry with the exhibition, "The Corset as Art: Past & Present." The exhibition runs through Sept. 25, and you won't want to miss a chance to see it in person. Here's why it may pique your interest.

Southern Utah museum features corsets throughout history
Photo: Southern Utah Museum of Art

Highlighting an undervalued art form

In a world of fast fashion and utilitarian clothing, you most likely don't think of your clothes as wearable art. That's what makes this exhibition unique.

Curated by Laura Crow, costume historian and professor emerita from the University of Connecticut, the exhibit features more than 30 corsets from national and international artists. You'll see a historical timeline of corsets ranging from early period pieces to contemporary works of wearable art as you immerse yourself in the intriguing history, evolution and artistry of corsetry.

"I have chosen this subject in particular to highlight a very undervalued art form. The concept of wearable art — not fashion — has been evolving since the 1960s," said guest curator Crow. "In 1987, Dame Suzie Moncrieff founded the World of Wearable Art (WOW) contest, which occurs every September over a three-week period and draws participants from more than 40 countries.

One of the winners, Nika Danielska from Poland, is included in the exhibition at SUMA."

And if the name Nika Danielska doesn't sound familiar, perhaps you'll recognize another famous person whose corset is on display.

"Some of these objects display extraordinary sewing craftsmanship, but many are three-dimensional objects created from artistic minds using different methodologies to make three-dimensional art. One of the works is, in fact, a costume created for the actress Scarlett Johansson's appearance on Saturday Night Live and made entirely of plastic mylar," Crow said.

See the play that accompanies the exhibit

If you really want to deepen your appreciation for corsets, you might enjoy the play that complements the exhibition. "The Corset as Art: Past & Present" is being held in conjunction with the Utah Shakespeare Festival's production of "Intimate Apparel."

The play is the heart-rending yet hopeful story of Esther, an African American woman in the early 1900s. Esther creates intricate pieces of lingerie for a wealthy clientele while also searching for love and acceptance.

Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and directed by actor, theatre educator, and director Tasia A. Jones, "Intimate Apparel" explores social divisions of race, religion, equality, class and sexism.

"I was thrilled when Frank Mack, executive producer of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, approached me about the play and partnership," said Jessica Kinsey, executive director of SUMA. "As the art museum at SUU's Beverley Center for the Arts, this is a great example of how we can bring the performing and visual arts together."

While the corset exhibition is free, you can purchase tickets for "Intimate Apparel" on the Utah Shakespeare Festival website.

Southern Utah museum features corsets throughout history
Photo: Southern Utah Museum of Art

Visit the exhibit for free

Given that this may be your only opportunity to see both an exhibition and a play dedicated to corsetry, you'll want to take advantage of it while it lasts.

SUMA is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and "The Corset as Art: Past & Present" runs until Sept. 25 along with two other exhibitions "Texture, Thread, Clay: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection" and "Utah Shakespeare Festival: 60th Anniversary Exhibition" Museum admission is free and open to the public thanks in part to Cedar City RAP Tax, Visit Cedar City, Utah Division of Arts and Museums, Zions Bank, Southern Utah University and other sponsors.

For more information on the activities, dates, and times, please check SUMA's website regularly. Any changes to hours and programs will be communicated immediately via email and SUMA's social media channels.

Southern Utah museum features corsets throughout history
Photo: Southern Utah Museum of Art
Southern Utah Museum of Art

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