Subversive fashion accessory takes a stand for justice
Houston artist casts iconic collars in bronze, shows strength of powerful women in history
The lace collar, cast in bronze, is immediately recognizable as one of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s iconic neck pieces.
The late associate justice of the Supreme Court gained notoriety for wearing collars encoded with meaning over her black judicial robes. She used the fashion accessory to dissent, to protest, to champion, and to celebrate, and in doing so, inspired girls, women and marginalized people everywhere to stand up for what they believe.
The bronzed collar is one of 23 on display at Holocaust Museum Houston until April. They form the Woman, the Spirit of the Universe exhibit , a showcase of collars, each one hand-woven in biodegradable cotton and cast in bronze, by artist Carolyn Marks Johnson, herself a retired judge from Houston.
Marks Johnson selected collars worn by mighty women from all backgrounds, races, and religions, says Alex Hampton, HMH’s manager of changing exhibitions. “She wanted to make sure this was an exhibit that showed it takes all kinds of people to champion human rights, while also showing the power of women through the collar as a fashion item,” he explains.
On display are the collars of well-known American women throughout history—First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and Chief Wilma Mankiller, first female chief of the Cherokee Nation. There are also two local trailblazers represented in the Houston exhibit, Mayor Annise Parker, the city’s first openly gay mayor, and Julia Edson, the region’s first female librarian.
Marks Johnson studied photos and historical documents to recreate exact collars worn by those featured. Information panels accompany the pieces, telling the woman’s story of strength, endurance and resilience. Resting on black fabric, the collars gleam, standing out just as the women wearing them did in their day.
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As part of our Fueling Futures commitment to support vibrant communities , Enbridge contributed a $10,000 grant to help HMH establish the exhibit. The collars will prompt visitors to reflect on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, values we are committed to upholding at Enbridge and in the communities where we operate.
Visitors taking in the Woman, Spirit of the Universe exhibit will also be able to enjoy HMH’s other collections, including the Bearing Witness Holocaust Gallery.
Some Holocaust museums are heavy, Hampton says, but HMH focuses on survival and strength; the permanent collection showcases 20 local Holocaust survivors who founded the museum in 1996. Their stories are of hope and healing, of the journey to peace in their adopted home.
Just like the museum’s founders, the women featured in Marks Johnson’s exhibit went through trials and tribulations and came out on top, Hampton says.
“The collars show that your choices matter,” he adds. “The women were ordinary people who became extraordinary. You can be a person who makes change.”
(TOP PHOTO: Ruth Bader Ginsberg's iconic lace collar, cast in bronze, is part of the Woman, the Spirit of the Universe exhibit created by artist Carolyn Marks Johnson, and on display at Holocaust Museum Houston. Photo by Sonya Cuellar.)
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