Dressing Bess

Porgy’s a cripple, Bess a druggie, the neighborhood a dilapidated slum . . . so the Catfish Row opera has often gone down in the stereotypical interpretations of directors since it was first produced in 1935.  But now, in the Spoleto Festival’s 40th anniversary production, the opera is taking a spin.

Artist Jonathan Greenhas re-interpreted the costumes based on his own experience growing up in the Lowcountry and the women and men who formed a vibrant colorful community around him.  Porgy and Bess through the eyes of a native son, unabashedly celebrating the culture he loves.

At ibu, our New Africa exhibit elevates the same energetic expression; and, like Greene, does so also through dress.  Our long twirling skirts from Togo, our bright beaded shoes and necklaces from Kenya, our shawls that wrap your do like a royal crown.

I live a couple of blocks from Catfish Row, where Gershwin was inspired to put this story to music.  In that context, Jonathan decided to conjure a world in which Africans chose to immigrate to the colonies like Europeans did - and to dress them accordingly.

Monday night I sat in Charleston’s new grand performance hall, awash with the colors of his imagination, thinking of the difference a garment can make.  Here’s to Jonathan, for painting both with memory and a bold leap into beauty.  Here's to all who create new worlds with the colors of their imagination . . . worlds that open , like the heart of Bess.  Open and sing.

All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker