Bard Graduate Center’s collaboration with LaGuardia Community College aims to unlock the power of object study to narrate human lives. Working with faculty in the social sciences and archives of the college, BGC faculty, staff, and doctoral students help to extend the BGC’s teaching vision beyond graduate training. Based around a curriculum developed by LaGuardia faculty in collaboration with BGC faculty and staff, this two-course sequence leads up to an exhibition in the BGC Gallery or website. BGC supports this collaboration as part of its care for the future of studying historical objects out of a commitment to the value of objects in helping individuals better understand the world they live in, and the worlds they come from. The first pilot project, Connecting Threads: Fashioning Identity in a Global World is built around objects brought to class by students.

Connecting Threads, 2019–20

Connecting Threads, 2020–21

Like all material culture, items of clothing and fashion have “social lives”—biographies containing the unique stories that have produced these objects. Clothing and fashion connect people across space and time, physically and symbolically. The curatorial process that created this exhibition resulted from a collaboration between two courses at CUNY LaGuardia Community College and Bard Graduate Center over the course of the 2019–20 academic year.

In the fall of 2019, cultural anthropology students from LaGuardia selected and studied objects of clothing and fashion to which they felt in some way connected. The artifacts they chose span the globe from Bangladesh and Tibet to Colombia and the U.S. The students’ papers, included in this exhibition, attempted to go behind the label and beyond the fabric, exploring in greater depth the social relationships required to produce, consume, dispose of, and reuse these objects. After the clothing items were safely stored and photographed at the LaGuardia & Wagner Archives, a new group of students in a spring semester art and society class guided the presentation of these objects to the public by writing the object descriptions and participating in the design of the exhibition.

The objects on display in Connecting Threads: Fashioning Identity in a Global World are thus also—and at the same time—manifestations of social connections of a different sort.

Student work in successive years will add to the project, creating an expanding online exhibition and a teaching resource for the future.