The Divine and the Dazzling: A Journey Through “Diva” at the V&A Museum

7 April 2024, by Judith Hepner

In this week’s blog, contributor Judith Hepner takes us inside the Victoria and Albert Museum's latest sensation, "Diva." This vibrant showcase is more than an exposition; it is an immersive experience that celebrates the power, glamour, and influence of divas through the ages. From the silent film era to the queens of pop and beyond, it captures the essence of what it means to be a diva—a blend of talent, charisma, fashion, and an indomitable spirit.

Upon entering the "Diva" exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, visitors are immediately met with a profound quote from Pierre Larousse's Grand Dictionnaire du XIXe Siècle: "Once a virtuoso singer has been judged a diva, that is all that needs to be said...The diva becomes divine; she becomes the idol of the stage, the queen of the city; she is a siren, an enchantress, a charmer." This powerful introduction sets the stage for an exploration of some of the world's most iconic women, whose influence and charisma have left an indelible mark on history. 

The Silent Goddesses and Beyond 

"The Silent Goddess" section pays homage to the enchanting stars of the silent film era, beginning with Lyda Borelli (1884-1959), whose portrayal of the stylish femme fatale captivated early 20th-century audiences. The exhibition then transitions to feature luminaries such as Greta Garbo (1905-1990), Judy Garland (1922-1969), and Vivien Leigh (1913-1867), showcasing the evolution of the diva through the lens of cinema. 

The exhibit does not remain anchored in the past. It boldly strides into the present, celebrating the influence of RuPaul, an iconic glamorous drag artist whose career and well-known competition show have redefined fashion's high style, looks, and attitude. This inclusion highlights the exhibition's commitment to showcasing the diva's role in challenging and reshaping societal norms. 

A Tribute to the Icons of Fashion and Music 

The retrospective also pays homage to Bob Mackie, the designer behind some of show business's most iconic looks, with creations for Cher, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, and Doris Day. Mackie's designs, prominently featured, capture the essence of the diva with every sequin and stitch, celebrating the fusion of fashion and performance art. Enhancing the visual feast, guests are provided with headsets to listen to iconic music that complements each garment on display. This auditory odyssey, enriched with famous tracks from the highlighted artists, crafts a multi-sensory celebration that spans the legacy of divas through the ages, from opera arias to the iconic sounds of Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston (1963-2012), and Grace Jones.  

"Diva" invites visitors to explore the rich tapestry of female empowerment and artistic expression. It's a journey that promises to enchant, educate, and inspire, making it a must-visit for anyone captivated by the enduring allure of the world's most iconic women. 

The sold-out show runs until April 10, 2024, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. 

For an alternative perspective and additional insights on the incredible exhibition, revisit our previous blog post

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