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New DAI family exhibit focuses on costumes and adornment

Once a year, the folks at the Dayton Art Institute introduce a new theme for the Experiencenter, the museum’s interactive, intergenerational gallery.

This time around the show is titled “Decked Out!,” and it’s all about costumes, jewelry and body adornment.

The littlest visitors can don a kimono or Turkish robe, create their own puppet show and make paper weavings. Older kids can learn how lace is made and spin a zoetrope to watch people getting dressed. A zoetrope is an early form of animation that produces the illusion of motion; the three on display were created by artists Bridgette Bogle and Francis Schanberger.

“The goal for the Experiencenter is to highlight items from the permanent collection and use them to provide hands-on learning and interactive experiences for families,” explained Diane Stemper, who curated the new exhibit that runs through April. “For this exhibit, we want to give our visitors exposure to how people all over the world in all time periods adorned themselves.”

The need to adorn

Through her research, Stemper said she discovered that as social human beings, it seems necessary to signal who we are and where we belong through the way we dress.

“It may indicate that we belong to a certain village or that we don’t belong to that village,” she said. “I think it’s a very basic social instinct to augment our beauty and clearly state the social group we’re associated with.”

In contemporary times, she said, we set ourselves apart as individuals or dress a certain way in order to be noticed.

“It’s often about other people and how they view you,” she added. “It’s what they know about you instantaneously just by looking at you.”

In the exhibit, for example, you’ll see a pair of embroidered pants from the Mien people in Laos.

“We wouldn’t know by looking at them, but if you live within that particular mountain region, other families would recognize these patterns and know your family clan,” explained Stemper.

At the exhibit

Once geared toward the youngest children, the Experiencenter now incorporates activities for older kids as well. A great example is BodyMod, designed by students from the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA).

“Everyone practices body art, whether it is slipping on a pair of skinny jeans or painting one’s face at a sporting event,” reads the introductory text. “There is no known culture that does not perform either temporary or permanent body art. The oldest evidence for body art is seen through archaeological evidence of tattoos and scarification found on preserved mummies at least 32,000 years old.”

The touch-screen display lets you click your way through a variety of examples. You’ll learn about make-up, tattooing, body shaping, henna, piercing. Objects from the permanent collection are included as images; the home screen features art by local artist James Pate.

Other items — not for touching — in the gallery are portraits, textiles, jewelry, rings from around the world, European lace and Asian fans. You’ll learn how different fan positions once signaled different messages. You’ll also see two costumes on loan from the Wright State Theatre Department.

The large wall in the gallery, recently such a hit with its interactive instruments, is a newly commissioned work titled “Adornments” by Migiwa Orimo.

How to visit

Stemper suggests caregivers allow children to lead the way when they visit the Experiencenter.

“Let them choose an object and then pick up on their questions about it,” she advises.

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