Photos by Arshiya Bhayana and Kate Silber
This past Saturday, March 30th, student leaders of Black Students League (BSL) hosted the group’s annual spring fashion show. The event took place in the Visual Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) center, and similar to last year, was heavily attended by family members, faculty and students from the Bi-Co community.
This year’s theme for the show was Black Face, White Masks, and according to the program, it drew inspiration from the current political climate, student experiences at Haverford College and the title of Frantz Fanon’s book Black, Skin White Masks. Lasting about an hour, the show consisted of dance performances, visual media, and runway modeling segments.
I sat down with one of BSL’s Co-heads and director of the show Aszana Lopez-Bell ‘21 to talk about her experience preparing for the show and her influence behind this year’s theme. Drawing inspiration from the title of Fanon’s book, Aszana took her own spin to the shows production. To Lopez-Bell, the show’s theme was “exploring how students of color mask themselves on campus [and] mask themselves to fit in [predominately white institutions]”. She continued, “That can take different forms, so just trying to fit in, masking their Blackness per se or masking themselves as a way of protection, that’s what we aimed to show through the show.”
Giving credit to her mom who read Fanon’s book, Aszana states how her original plan was to, “do something like ethereal, something pretty” and that she “wanted to represent black people as holy.” However, as more conversations with her mom developed, she thought more about the message she wanted to portray. She states, “I had a lot of conversations with my mom and i’d be like ‘you know this just seems like really fake like it’s not what I want’ and so it kind of transformed with like multiple conversations with her.” Aszana decided to go with a depiction of Black community that was a testament to both the experiences of people of color at college and the trials, and triumphs, they faced in the real world.
Unlike last year’s production, the majority of models for this years show came from Haverford. One model, who is the other BSL co-head, Gabe Pascal ‘21, in reflecting on his favorite part of the experience wrote in email: “My favorite part of the experience was probably the feeling of actualization that came from experiencing the show with [past fashion show organizers] Talia Scott, Kenny Golson, Kiamani Wilson, and Alliyah Allen in the building. All of them paved the way for us to be able to make the fashion show what is is today and it is because of those people that I chose to be a part of leading the show this year. One of the greatest motivating factors for us to make the show great was to be able to uphold the legacy those people created and to leave a good impression for those who will be taking control next year.”
Opening with a dancing segment from Lourdes Taylor ‘21 and Jasmine Stanton BMC ‘20, the beginning sequence created a feeling of serenity and empowerment with the two students who masked themselves under semi-transparent white veils. In juxtaposition, the end of the show consisted of all the models dancing on the balcony of VCAM before throwing their veils, or masks, down on the audience below, in a celebration of their strength, beauty and resilience.
“We were hoping to express to our classmates and administrators in the audience that an elite liberal arts college like Haverford has a suffocating way of stifling the blackness that our black students exude when coming to this school. I think a lot of people here have the privilege of avoiding consideration of all the difficulties and inhibitors of equality that black students confront daily. Hopefully the show illuminated some of these difficulties and forced the audience to think on these things,” said Pascal in an email. With the loud applause, and the standing ovation it received from members of the audience, it is clear that the show not only left its mark on those who attended but may impact further conversations about campus diversity and race for the future.