PREVIEW: Diva, Victoria and Albert Museum

The V&A’s exhibition focusing on the extraordinary power and creativity of iconic performers who have made their voices heard from the 19th century to today.

Costume, designed by Christian Dior, worn by Vivien Leigh as Paola in Jean Giraudoux’s play, ‘Duel of Angels’, Apollo Theatre, 1958 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum have unveiled details of its upcoming exhibition Diva that will celebrate the performers who have made their voices heard since the 19th century.

On display from the 24th June, this exhibition will showcase over 250 objects drawn from the V&A collection and loans from across the world, spanning fashion, photography, design, costumes, music, and live performance. Displayed with theatrical flair as well as a sonic headset experience, Diva will celebrate the powerful and personal stories of creativity, ambition, and resilience of some the bestknown divas, from opera goddesses and silent movie stars to sirens of the big screen and today’s global megastars. Interwoven with this, the display will also look at how the performer has intersected with society and driven change through their platform and profile for social good and political change, including global civil rights and feminism.

Throughout the exhibition, over sixty looks will go on display, many rare or on display for the first time, including: a stage ensemble worn by Maria Callas as Norma in the Covent Garden Opera Company production of ‘Norma’ (1952); the fringed black dress worn by Marilyn Monroe as Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk in ‘Some Like it Hot’ (1959); the only known surviving dress worn by Clara Bow, rarely seen outside of the U.S; iconic costumes designed by fashion designer for the stars Bob Mackie, including looks worn by Tina Turner, P!nk and CHER; a Louis XIV inspired look, with towering powdered wig and train worn by Elton John for his 50th birthday celebration, designed by Sandy Powell; Shirley Bassey’s couture pink gown designed by Julien MacDonald including diamanté-studded wellington boots, worn on stage at Glastonbury (2007); and Janelle Monae’s ‘vulva pants’ designed by Duran Lantink for the music video ‘Pynk’ (2018). Also on display will be examples of ephemera for the divadom including posters, song sheets and handwritten lyric sheets as well as personal objects and accessories owned by divas. Meanwhile, a video wall will celebrate the art of drag and its relationship to the diva.

Kate Bailey, curator of DIVA, said: “The V&A with its world class collections of art design and performance and its mission to inspire creativity in all its forms is the perfect stage to celebrate the multifaceted Diva. Today the word diva holds a myriad of meanings. 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.”

The exhibition will be divided into two ‘acts’. The first will focus on historical context to the creation of the Diva and explores the goddesses of the stage and screen who have endured and shaped our popular culture today. Highlights of this section will include early Parisian couture worn by Adelina Patti from the V&A’s collection, on display for the first time; a jewellery box embellished with mother of pearl inlay, presented to Jenny Lind after a charity concert in aid of the Queen’s College Hospital, Birmingham (1848) and an ensemble worn by prima ballerina Tamara Karsavina as Salomé in ‘LaTragédie de Salomé’, performed by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1913).

Meanwhile the second ‘act’ will celebrates the diva today and explores how performers of all genders have redefined and reclaimed the title ‘diva’ as an expression of their art, voice, and sense of self. Highlights of this section will include: Edith Piaf’s instantly recognisable little black dress (1950s); several iconic costumes worn by CHER across the decades, including a glittering two-piece ensemble, worn to the 1975 Rock Music Awards, designed by Bob Mackie; Tina Turner’s iconic ‘Flame Dress’ (1977), also designed by Mackie and an acid yellow and pink mini dress worn by Debbie Harry on Blondie’s 1979 European tour.

To book tickets for the exhibition visit:

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