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“US” merges Victorian fashion with Afrofuturism

Man in coat and hat stands next to large framed photograph of a Black woman seated in an ornate wooden chair wearing victorian dress.
Photographer Roosevelt Mansfield stands next to one of his portraits at Strive Bookstore in downtown Minneapolis. (Photo credit: CBJ Reporter Jasmine McBride)

Now on view at the Strive Bookstore in downtown Minneapolis, “US” is a new photography exhibition that merges the 1800s Victorian fashion with Afrofuturism to reimagine Black narratives. 

Displayed in gilded frames, Black men and women pose in luxurious settings wearing Victorian finery but also giving off a distinctly contemporary air.

Photographer Roosevelt Mansfield says he felt it was time to acknowledge the contribution of Black hands within the Victorian garment making process. He says the Black community rarely benefits from its influence in the fashion industry. With this exhibition, he’s moving the Black body from behind the scenes into the spotlight. 

“I imagined us in the back designing these dresses, and our women are not able to even see themselves in it,” said Mansfield. “I wanted to put us back in it. But not ‘us’ of the past, ‘us’ of the future.”

Mansfield began taking photography seriously in 2015. He says his own life experiences inspired his desire to expand on Black narratives.

“I like to bring attention to us,” said Manifield. “I want to inspire people, inspire up-and-coming photographers, inspire men of color when it comes to fashion… I want to dispel the narrative that we're only one-dimensional people, especially when it comes to our art.”

Mansfield says this lens of expansion is a real practice for him. He says if he hadn’t begun this practice in his personal life, he wouldn’t have taken this leap creatively.

“I've been through a lot growing up, and just to think of where I am now, from where I was… I used to throw away my art because I was afraid of what people thought of me,” Mansfield recalled. “I never really thought about doing exhibits or whatever, and this is a huge success! This gives me confidence to actually pursue my ideas and make my ideas a reality.”

Mansfield says he felt his vision was affirmed after receiving a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to bring his idea to life. He says it opened up doors and allowed him to hire Black creatives in the process. 

Mansfield says merging Victorian fashion with Afrofuturism takes both a detailed eye and a clear intention. He says he was fortunate to connect to Penumbra Theatre costume designer Mary Farrell, who helped bring his vision to life.

“I told her my idea, my vision. And it was like she just jumped in my head and went and got all these outfits,” said Mansfield. “I just had the models pick whatever they wanted to wear because everything in there was what was in my mind. She was that dope.”

Mansfield says Black narratives need to be continually expanded upon. He says the more Black creators take the leap of faith to express their authentic selves – regardless of what stereotype they’re up against – the more the vastness of Black culture will be felt.

“Us” runs through Dec 28 at the Strive Bookstore in downtown Minneapolis.


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