DIVA Exhibition: Celebrating the Power and Evolution of Iconic Performers

16 July 2023, by Vidita Gupta

In this week's blog, Costume Society Ambassador Vidita Gupta reviews the new DIVA exhibition at the V&A, which opened in June. Tracing the history of the diva through a breadth of icons, the exhibition features a breathtaking variety of objects, which Vidita walks us through. DIVA is open at the South Kensington site until April 2024.

This summer, the V&A has opened its doors to an extraordinary exhibition that delves into the world of DIVA. Showcasing a captivating collection of over 250 objects, ranging from fashion and photography to design and live performances, DIVA explores the creative prowess and enduring impact of iconic performers since the 19th century. This immersive exhibition, meticulously curated over a span of five years, offers a theatrical staging accompanied by spatially triggered audio and video design, allowing visitors to experience the essence of these legendary figures. According to Kate Bailey, curator of DIVA, “At the heart of this exhibition is a story of iconic performers who with creativity, courage and ambition have challenged the status quo and used their voice and their art to redefine and reclaim the diva.” Bailey has divided the entire exhibition into three acts. Let's take a closer look at the three-act journey through the exhibition and how it reaffirms the concept of DIVA.

The ground floor of the V&A's Fashion Gallery space sets the stage for the first act of DIVA. Here, the exhibition takes us on a historical journey, focusing on the emergence of divas from the 1800s to the 1960s. By highlighting the creativity, struggles, and successes of divas during this era, the exhibition sheds light on their remarkable achievements and contributions. It explores a lot from the opulent couture of opera divas like Adelina Patti and Jenny Lind to their extraordinary roles that brought them wealth and recognition during a period when most women could not pursue an education or career. Through the groundbreaking roles played by actors such as Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt, this section showcases how these pioneers challenged societal norms and paved the way for the first wave of feminism. It also explores the influence of silent-screen actors and Hollywood stars like Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, Mae West, and Marilyn Monroe, who left an indelible mark on the struggle for equality.









Moving to the first-floor gallery, the second act of DIVA delves into the thematic concept of a diva and its impact on our perceptions. Here, the exhibition celebrates the diva in the modern era and examines how performers of all genders have redefined and reclaimed the title. The section opens with five key looks from the iconic diva Rihanna, tracing her evolution as a cultural influencer and her ability to shape popular culture. It further explores the lives and styles of legendary figures such as Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Adele, Lady Gaga, Prince, Lil Nas X, and many more. A significant focus of this act is how these contemporary performers have used their voices to drive social and political change, particularly in the realms of civil rights and feminism.

The third act of DIVA is the dome projections, depicting divas, each of whom is like a comet fighting and creating their own trajectory. The alcoves of the gallery come alive with cherished moments from beloved divas like Freddie Mercury, Kate Bush, Whitney Houston, and Beyoncé. Through mesmerising projection mapping and stage lighting, the exhibition captures the essence of these transformative artists and their impact on global culture.

DIVA is an awe-inspiring exhibition that celebrates the power, creativity, and evolution of divas throughout history. From the pioneers who defied societal constraints to the contemporary performers who redefine the concept of a diva, this exhibition pays homage to their extraordinary journeys. As visitors traverse the three acts, they gain insight into the origins of the term 'diva' and witness its transformation over time. DIVA serves as a testament to the diva's ability to inspire, transform, and embrace the defining forces of their art, while also demonstrating their role in driving global change. Make sure to visit this remarkable exhibition, open until April 7th, 2024, and experience the captivating world of DIVA for yourself.

For more behind the scenes content on the V&A's exhibitions, read our previous blog post on Hallyu! The Korean Wave. 

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