Meet theo tyson, the new fashion curator of the MFA
Growing up in Germany, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, California and Alabama, theo tyson quickly learned that fashion was both a way of fitting into a culture and marking one’s unique identity.
“When I was in Germany in college, I wore shiny shoes, harem pants. When I came to America I was just weird, ”Tyson laughs.
Tyson began his new role as Penny Vinik Curator of Fashion Arts at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts this week, where they hope to involve people who may never have set foot in a museum, to inspire everyone to engage in the arts.
They had a winding path to the MFA. After earning a business administration degree from Alabama A&M University, tyson worked in wealth management, automotive customization and restoration, in retail for Bloomingdale’s and Victoria’s Secret. They owned and operated Trinity Productions, an event production and experiential strategy company specializing in the production of fashion shows.
“Fashion is, by default, an inclusive space,” says tyson. “I don’t want people to think they need a doctorate. or be a rocket scientist to engage in the art of fashion, or the arts as a whole “
They give off a cool teacher vibe, they’re down-to-earth, demeanor, funny … really, funny, actually. However, they do not want to be seen as the archetypal authority of university museums. They don’t like the “conference” of the world. (“I don’t want to present myself as an authority. It plays too much into this patriarchal idea of authority.”)
“Museums are in dire need of being decolonized. We all belong to these spaces. Showing up for myself also means showing up for other black people, other homosexuals, others who are unfamiliar with the canon, ”says Tyson. “We need to be more accessible and dismantle the Conservatives’ siled vision, and understand that we all have something to offer.
Lauren Daley: How did you get into fashion curation?
Theo Tyson: I’ve always been in fashion, but not in conservation or museums. My beginnings are in retail – from Victoria Secret’s to Bloomingdales – working with people who wore the clothes versus the theories behind Why they wore them.
Then in 2016, my partner at the time asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I said, “I want to go to Savannah to see the Vivienne Westwood exhibition.“She wasn’t in museums, just for the record. She was like, ‘OK, if that’s what you want to do.’
We went to SCAD Art Museum. I was standing in front of a handcrafted macrame masterpiece embroidered with these beautiful Swarovski crystals, and the light hit it – I had a big crocodile tear. I just looked at him thinking, “I don’t understand what’s going on right now, but I have to figure out how to do this.” “
So I decided to go back to school at Savannah College of Art and Design. I went back to school after not being in school for a while, let’s put it that way. I was non-traditional. I was like, “Where are the # 2 pencils and scantrons?” What is happening?”
The history of art was a requirement. I had a wonderful teacher, Emily Webb. She took a picture of the painting “Madame X“by John Singer Sargent.
Other students spoke of composition, of strokes of paint. I said, “I don’t know this language – but I know there is a dress, and the way she wears it means this. “It was my entry point. It was self-discovery and learning new languages. Fashion is a language.
How did fashion speak to you through this painting?
I understood that Sargent was trying to show a sense of status – the drape, the neckline, the waist, the bodice. The decision for Madame X to wear this dress, the decision Sargent made while painting it – these are the things I had seen in real life. That’s what I call “The Fitting Room Chronicles” – I’ve been through this with people at Bloomingdale’s. When you’re in the dressing room with someone in their underwear, and they tell you what they want to put on their body, they tell you who they want to be. Fashion is an armor. This is what we put on to protect and present ourselves.
It’s fascinating to see how fashion plays into identity.
I don’t even know if fashion plays in our identity – it carried out our identity for us.
Good point. And has it always been like this since the dawn of fashion?
Oh my god, yes. We don’t even have enough documentation to show how fashion has impacted our lives today, and how much it should be a part of not only history, but historiography as well.
What do the changing styles of our culture say? The way a hem can go up, or when did women start to wear pants?
Or men have stopped wearing heels.
It’s a power game. And I won’t bore you with my full soapbox on White Heteronormative Patriarchy …[For example] there is a whole conversation about pink and blue – pink was the most masculine color.
My time at Boston Athenaeum was devoted to the study of 19th century photography, particularly how black women fashioned themselves for a sense of humanity and fairness. Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries: we have t-shirts that say “f — patriarchy”. Fashion as a way of communicating – not just your personal identity, but your public identity, your political identity – still stands. From miniskirts not to wear a bra, to women wearing suits, to men wearing skirts. All of this culminates in this idea of the power of fashion.
I had no idea that pink was once considered masculine.
Strange, isn’t it? Or that the men wore heels, powdered their faces, put red on their cheeks. We can see all of our ancestors in quotes in wigs. It’s like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’
[laughs] What do you think about when you get dressed in the morning?
How do I want to be seen? How do I want to be received? Because they are two different things. I can tell you what I wore to my interview at the MFA. I wanted to present myself as a professional, as qualified in terms of knowledge of fashion and art. I also wanted to present me.
I was wearing a black-on-black camouflage tuxedo suit, a white Edgar Pomeroy couture shirt with French cuffs. I didn’t put on any cufflinks, so the handcuffs were hanging off my fingertips. A black tie from Target and a pair of Christian Dior Spectators in black and white. I braided my hair into a mohawk. It was armor.
Do you still tend to wear black or white?
Always. My personality is quite colorful.
What I would like to do in this role is to show that assimilation is not a denial of identity, it is a reconquest of humanity. I can wear these clothes because I can be who I want to be.
What’s the first show you have planned?
Oh, you can’t ask me that. [laughs] I have 20 shows in mind …
For the MFA to appear primarily to me, that’s huge. One woman – Myriam Negron – worked in HR at the MFA; she has since retired. I remember being on the phone for the official job offer. She said to me, “This is my last day at the MFA. You are my heritage.
I will try not to get emotional. For her to recognize that my involvement in fashion had the potential to create a legacy, had the potential to change – I’m choked. What are you doing with it? You are doing your best. You invite everyone. Because an inheritance is what you leave behind, an offering for others. We do it in a way that embraces homosexuality. We do it in a way that embraces the dark. We do it in a way that embraces inclusiveness and intersectionality at its core.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.