National Gallery exhibit in fashion

Work in the National Gallery’s latest exhibit is being hung using a different kind of frame, a human one.

“Art of Fashion” opens at the gallery on Saturday and runs through Nov. 30. It features 28 works by two young Cayman Islands designers, Isy Obi, who uses Isy B. as her trade name, and Jawara Alleyne.

“This is a concept I had been looking at about three years ago,” says gallery director Natalie Urquhart, who co-created the exhibit with Simon Tatum.

That concept coalesced when she attended the CARIF ESTA festival in Barbados last year. Alleyne and Obi were both there.

“We had a lot of time to chat,” she says. “Both designers are really leading the fashion discussion in Cayman.”

That discussion is growing, she says.

“We’ve been excited by the burgeoning fashion industry on Cayman,” Urquhart says. “We’re trying to raise awareness about fashion.”

Both Alleyne and Obi were asked to choose 14 pieces from the national collection of art that they could respond to or reinterpret in their work. Alleyne says the connections to the work are not necessarily linear.

“There’s not really one piece that it corresponds to,” Alleyne says, talking about one of his pieces, a jacket with irregular shaped pieces of fabric attached to it. “I looked at what links these (museum collection) pieces together. I try to capture that in my work, to be inspired by work in the Cayman Islands.”

One of the pieces he points out is an abstract painting of palm trees using some of the same colors featured in his jacket.

“It’s kind of like painting with fashion,” he says.

Alleyne, 26, is beginning a master’s degree program at the University of Arts, London’s College of Fashion, where he did his undergraduate work.

“London is a very creative city,” he says. “You don’t see limitations anymore because people around you have broken down all the stereotypes. It’s very inspirational.

Jawara Alleyne wears a jacket that will be on display as part of the Art in Fashion exhibit opening. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

“My aim is to get my education down and spark something that can be a change for the Cayman Islands and the rest of the world,” he adds.

He sees the exhibit as part of that process.

“This is an amazing step forward, just for what the creative community has to offer,” he says. “This is an important step in taking our message to the community and the rest of the world.”

Obi, 39, says she’s pleased to see fashion being taken seriously.

“It’s fantastic that fashion is being recognized as part of Cayman’s creative scene,” Obi says.

In interpreting pieces from the museum collection, Obi says she took a historical approach, working with various materials that reflected different time periods.

“I have materials I’ve never used before,” she says, “fabric with electric wire woven into it. This gown lights up when it’s worn.”

She also worked with the most basic of Cayman materials to create a piece made of thatch.

“I worked with a local thatch maker, Miss Eileen (McLaughlin). We worked at the farmers market for about six weeks. People at the market had a bit of a show.”

McLaughlin, Obi says, was initially skeptical.

“She thought I was crazy,” Obi says. “We had to work out how we could translate what I had in my head into reality.”

Urquhart says she hopes to be able to acquire at least two pieces from the show for the gallery’s permanent collection. All 28 pieces will be featured in a fashion show planned as part of this year’s annual gallery gala on Nov. 30.

Workshops and panel discussions are being planned to coincide with the run of the show.

“We’re seeing a lot of energy in Cayman,” Urquhart says of the fashion scene, “and the gallery’s role is to help move that forward.”

The National Gallery is located on Esterley Tibbetts Highway, just south of Camana Bay. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 945-8111 for more information.