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Clothing exhibition reveals 1,000 years of Black history through Pittsburgh and beyond

Kevin Kirkland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Fashion Daily News

PITTSBURGH — Designer and writer Tereneh Idia remembers vividly standing in Drexel University's Main Building and yelling, "I am Amina of Zazzau, Hausaland!"

She was dressed in wide trousers and a head wrap to resemble a 1500s West African warrior queen in what is now Nigeria.

Idia, who was then head of the Black Student Union at the Philadelphia university, wanted to "make Black History come alive" for students and faculty.

These days, she is doing the same thing in the Contemporary Craft exhibition "C3: Cloth, Culture, Community — Exploring 1,000 years of Black Pittsburgh through clothing."

The free exhibition opened in December and continues through April 16 at Contemporary Craft's BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station in Downtown. It is the result of a nine-month residency at Contemporary Craft funded by a $35,000 Creative Development Award from The Heinz Endowments.

In 14 outfits, Idia explores over 1,000 years of history, from 1500s Amina to 3000 Amina, who lives in a very different Pittsburgh than the one we know today. She honors Black rulers, slaves, soldiers, businessmen, coal miners, activists and artists — including her grandfather and father, sculptor Thaddeus Mosley — whose lives have shaped Western Pennsylvania, America and the world.


The exhibition begins with Amina, whom Idia first learned about from her image on a Nigerian postage stamp. The outfit features a breastplate of aluminum chain links, equestrian culottes made from fabric found at the Center for Creative Reuse in Point Breeze and a crown of recycled brass by Selima Dawson of Blakbird Jewelry.

Many outfits feature handmade items, sustainable fabrics and vintage clothing purchased on eBay. Several pieces bear the image of the designer's C3 flag, which shows the East Coast of the United States and a portion of the coast of West Africa, with a dotted line to represent Africans' Middle Passage to slavery.

The outfits are eye-catching and sometimes colorful; every detail has significance. But what really captures a visitor's imagination is the stories behind the clothing.

Idia, a contributing writer for City Paper whose work has also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, artfully weaves together history and personal reflections in a 32-page catalog that is required reading for anyone who wants to fully understand the exhibition.


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