The new exhibition from The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, China: Through the Looking Glass, explores the influence of Chinese culture and fashion on Western designers. And the sophistication and sensitivity with which the exhibition presents the complicated nexus of exchange between East and West is, according to a recent article in the International Business Times, thanks to Homay King, Bryn Mawr History of Art Professor and Director of Program in Film Studies and Center for Visual Culture. King became involved in the project after curator Andrew Bolton read her book Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema and the Enigmatic Signifier, which explores how Western cinema has portrayed East Asia as a land of mystery.
Professor King also contributed an essay to the exhibition catalog, “Cinema’s Virtual Chinas.”
Filmic representations of China made in Hollywood create and disseminate fantasies about the East that have been more inspirational to designers than any actual visits to China, explains Bolton in a Business of Fashion article. Still, both Bolton and King were anxious to get outside of a critical framework of exploitation and “Orientalism” in their assessment of these hybrid cultural products. Instead they advocate a more nuanced study of this work, one that simultaneously recognizes the influence of largely inaccurate collective fantasies about China while also allowing for and admitting the pleasure of looking at these stunning costumes.
The show remains open through August 16th.