Opening on Saturday, Diva is fully on board with the sensory journey being a diva inspires and the immersive experience combines sound and stunning visuals. Telling the story of the first divas, from Josephine Baker and legends of silent film, through to jazz divas of the Sixties like Nina Simone (and their impact on the racial justice and civil rights movement) the show journeys through to today, where the concept of diva gets a reset.
Kate Bailey, performance curator behind the Diva V&A exhibition, explains her thoughts on the show. “The term (diva) has become omnipresent so it felt like the right time look at the origins and reclaim it. With the V&A we celebrate female artists throughout the museum, but to bring the performer centre stage and recognise and celebrate the artistry of these icons is great.”
With 250 pieces on display, including stage costumes from Billie Eilish to Elton John’s birthday party lewk, Tina Turner’s sequinned minidress and Dame Shirley Bassey’s crystal monogrammed wellies, which she wore to perform at Glastonbury, the fashion on display dazzles. “The diva is very much a 360 concept,” explains Kate. “It’s essential to bring together the performative nature of the subject and offer that experience to visitors.”
There’s a powerful soundtrack that morphs as you move through the exhibits and, as well as the theatrical staging, the exhibition brings the diva’s activism to the fore. In contrast to the crystals and corsets of the diva’s early incarnation, Act II of the exhibition brings a spotlight onto divas of all genders and their activist work, whether that’s campaigning for equal pay, gay rights in the 1960s or Billie Eilish speaking on Roe vs Wade at Glastonbury last year.
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