Elka Stevens, PhD

Bio


Dr. Elka Stevens, an Associate Professor of visual culture and studio art, serves as Fashion Design program coordinator and textiles collection curator in Howard University’s Art Department. As an interdisciplinary scholar and artist, Elka uses textiles and clothing as a lens of analysis, inspiration, and media for her scholarship. Current research topics include media and design pedagogy, black designers, and Zoom® and impression management. Current fiber and digital creative works explore identity, sustainability, and social justice. Stevens teaches design, textiles, international trade, visual culture, and consumer behavior courses. Three decades of educational, design, retail, media, collections, and industry experience – plus international travel – inform her teaching, research, and studio practice. Elka received her PhD from the University of Minnesota and maintains membership in various service and professional organizations. Dr. Stevens has also recently been a 2019-20 Council of American Overseas Research Centers – Center American Institute of Indian Studies (CAORC – AIIS) fellow, a 2021 Summer Institute for Israel Studies at Brandeis University fellow, and is currently Artist-in-Residence: Creative Practice in Critical Race Studies in the Department of Art at Michigan State University for the 2021-22 academic term.

Featured Works



Please join the MSU Department of Art, Art History, and Design at The Union Art Gallery on Michigan State Universities' Campus for 38.8%: Visualizing Racial Identity in Search of Selfhood and Others, featuring the work of 2021-2022 Artist-in-Residence: Critical Race Studies, Dr. Elka Stevens. This exhibition is on view Monday, April 25 – Friday, June 10, 2022. In 38.8%, artist and designer Elka Stevens visually interrogates aspects of race, ethnicity, nationality, genetics, and their presentation as part of identity. Although many aspects of identity are out of people’s control and largely unseen, clothing allows individuals and groups to communicate messages about themselves, their cultures, activities, events, locations, and employment. Using textiles and clothing as a primary vehicle to present ideas about race, Stevens presents a mini-collection of stylized, wearable garments for women and selected artifacts that engage both the viewer and wearer in a dialogue about race and identity that explores how we wear our identities. Featured garments and accessories include dresses, a skirt, and a wrap. A quilt and blanket also narrate the social and physical attributes of race. The designs incorporate sewing techniques, such as embroidery, quilting, and applique. Surface design techniques incorporate aspects of genealogy research into the collection. Archival research and imagery also contribute to the works, through motifs that include a family charts document and present wearable family histories. Color, along with other elements of design and their guiding principles, bring attention to an articulated genetic makeup. In sum, 38.8% is a re-presentation of a lived experience through worn and displayed objects.


MSU Art, Art History, and Design Department Link

Click here to participate in the contest associated with 38.8% and to see a bit more about the exhibition!

 



Alma Thomas' Dresses
Recreated for Alma Thomas: Everything is Beautiful Exhibition (2021-2022)

Alma W. Thomas (1891-1978) is an African American abstractionist painter and was the first graduate of Howard University’s Department of Art in 1924. Alma Thomas: Everything is Beautiful, a touring exhibition, features a comprehensive overview of Alma's work, including over 100 pieces. Also featured are recreations of the day dress or smock in which she often painted and the gown Alma wore to Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition opening in 1972. Alma Thomas: Everything is Beautiful is currently at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. It can also be viewed online here. The exhibition will be traveling to the Phillips in Washington, DC, the Frist in Nashville, Tennessee, and to The Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia in 2021 to 2022.
The recreated day dress fabric (red and white checkerboard) is available for purchase. Click here. All proceeds from the sale of this fabric and products available on Spoonflower.com will be donated to Howard University's Alma Thomas Endowment Scholarship Fund. If you would like to make a donation directly, please click here. You may also purchase specially-designed items featuring the checkerboard pattern from the Chrysler Museum Gift Shop. Click here, which is also donating a portion of proceeds to the Alma Thomas Endowment Scholarship Fund at Howard University. Finally, if you would like to make your own Alma Thomas Day Dress, the pattern is forthcoming!
All proceeds from its sale will be donated to the Alma Thomas Endowment Scholarship Fund. Contact me below to be notified when the pattern is available.

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Howard University's
Junior Faculty Writing and Creative Works Summer Academy Quilts

From 2016 to 2019, the Office of Faculty Development in the Office of the Provost at Howard University with the generous support of The Andrew Mellon Foundation, sponsors the Junior Faculty Writing & Creative Works Summer Academy to support untenured, full-time faculty produce scholarly publications and/or creative works. Each year to commemorate the junior faculty who complete the program and thier mentors, I have been comissioned to create a quilt. To date, in excess of 130 junior faculty, 35 senior scholars, and 6 visiting faculty scholars have participated in the Summer Academy. All photographs by the srtist.

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2016 #1 of 4

Hanging on the first floor of Founder's Library near the entrance/exit on the upper quadrangle on the campus of Howard University.

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2017 #2 of 4

Hanging on the first floor of Howard University's Interdisciplinary Research Building (HU-IRB) on Georgia Avenue, NW between Bryant and W Streets.

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2018 #3 of 4

Hanging on the first floor of the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library at Howard University located at 501 W Street, NW.

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2019 #4 of 4

To he hung in Burr Gymnasiom on the campus of Howard University.

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2020 #5 of 6

In progress. Location to be determined.

More about Elka...

Innovative Curriculum

Created courses inspired by Michelle Obama as First Lady, Project Runway, and archival methodlogies in creative practice

Faculty Development

Serves as Co-Director of the Howard University Junior Faculty Writing & Creative Works Summer Academy, 2016 to present, and facilitated Winter 2021 Bootcamp - a scholarly productivity participatory activity for faculty.

Digital Humanities

Creating digital collections about protest clothing, black designers, and political media, as well as digitizing a costume collection.

Online & Hybrid Courses

Taught first online asynchronous course via WebCT in Costume History in 1999 and first asynchronous course via Blackboard in the Department of Art at Howard University in 2009.

Costume Collection

Oversaw the expansion of the costume collection through facilitating two donations of historic clothing and of African textiles, totaling 250 unique artifacts.

And what is "38.8%"?

Join us on Monday, April 25th in the Union Gallery on the Michigan State University campus for the opening reception for 38.8%: Visualizing Racial Identity in Search of Selfhood and Others, featuring the work of 2021-2022 Artist-in-Residence: Critical Race Studies, Dr. Elka Stevens.

More Creative Works

Click images below for additional information about the work.

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Zip It Up! IV: Grey Goddess II - Sitting Pretty Series (2019)

Wearable Art

The sixth installment in the Zip It Up! series repurposes approximately 1000 zippers to create a circular asymmetrical knee length dress with movement and fullness. Borrowing from weaving and construction traditions, I weave and stitch the zippers to form garments and accessories that are not only “the sum of their parts” but also distinctively transformed creations.

Photographer: Elka M. Stevens

Hair & Makeup: Marcela Urioste @bymarcelau

Hair & Makeup Assistant: Diane Vega

Model: Gigi Banal

Shoot Coordinator: Ronald Beverly @#ronaldbeverly

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Zip It Up! VII: Carrying the Blues (2021)

Wearable Art

The seventh installment in the Zip It Up! series repurposes metal toothed zippers to create a purse. Borrowing from weaving and construction traditions, I weave and stitch the zippers to form garments and accessories that are not only “the sum of their parts” but also distinctively transformed creations.

Photographer: Elka M. Stevens

Designer: Elka M. Stevens

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Zip It Up!: Mouring

Wearable Art

The fourth installment in the Zip It Up! series repurposes approximately nylon zippers to create peplm sleeveless bodice with a waist-deep "V" in the front and back. A multi-layered tulle floor length skirt compliments the look. Borrowing from weaving and construction traditions, I weave and stitch the zippers to form garments and accessories that are not only “the sum of their parts” but also distinctively transformed creations.

Photographer: Elka M. Stevens

Hair & Makeup: Marcela Urioste @bymarcelau

Hair & Makeup Assistant: Diane Vega

Model: Gigi Banal

Shoot Coordinator: Ronald Beverly @#ronaldbeverly

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Zip It Up! II

Wearable Art

The second installment in the Zip It Up! series repurposes approximately almost 100 meters of metal zipper tape to create a strapless, form-fitting gown with a short train. Borrowing from construction techniques, I stitch the zippers to form garments and accessories that are not only “the sum of their parts” but also distinctively transformed creations.

Photographer: Ronald Beverly @ronaldbeverly

Model: Dawn Brame

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Zip It Up! Grey Goddess

Wearable Art

The third installment in the Zip It Up! series repurposes approximately 2000 nylon zippers to strapless and backless ankle length gown with full circular skirt. Borrowing from weaving and construction traditions, I weave and stitch the zippers to form garments and accessories that are not only “the sum of their parts” but also distinctively transformed creations.

Photographer: Ronald Beverly @ronaldbeverly

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Art Of Coding

Clean & Minimalistic Design

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Project Leader: John Doe

Designer: Alisa Keys

Developer: Mark Doe

Customer: Keenthemes

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Gaze: Medallion #1 (2017)

The Gaze Series

Featuring silhouettes of Saartjie Baartman (commonly referred to as the “Hottentot Venus”), Beyonce, Nikki Menaj, and Rihanna, “Gaze: Medallion # 1” was designed to evoke discussions about the black female body and the performance of black womanhood. “Gaze: Medallion #1" captures a white, masculine, hypersexualized, hegemonic, heteronormative gaze upon black women’s bodies that is seen through and reflected in the eyes.

Designer: Elka Stevens

Media: Graphic

Year: 2018

Image Size: 24" x 24"

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Stowage Coat and Cotton Skirt (2013)

Slave to Fashion Series

"Stowage Coat" is a mixed media woman's unlined short jacket, constructed from 100% cotton sateen, 100% cotton velveteen, 100% dupioni silk, miscellaneous trim, and resin decorative buttons. Images on the coat include Kitchin’s trade route map (1800), the Brookes vessel stowage diagram (1788), and Wedgewood's "Am I Not a Man and a Brother" motif (1787).

Designer: Elka Stevens

Garment size: 20

Year: 2013

Photographer: Ronald Beverly

Year: 2013

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Angelina Brookes Furniture (2018)

Slave to Fashion Series

“Angelina Brookes” combines the iconic 1970s Black Power dashiki cloth motif created by Vlisco, a Dutch manufacturer of cloth for an African market, with the widely publicized 18th century diagram of the British slave ship, the Brookes, which transported enslaved Africans to the Caribbean. The kanga-styled cloth featuring the deconstructed the infographic is edged with reproductions of runaway slave ads, chains, and rope. “Angelina Brookes” vocalizes Black Power to a new generation of black and brown bodies.

Designer: Elka Stevens

Year: 2018

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Tracie Draped

Wearable Art

An experimental collaboration between BREW members, Ronald Beverly and Elka Stevens.
Sheer v-back garment is drapable on and around the body.

Designer: Elka Stevens

Garment size: One size

Year: 2013

Photographer: Ronald Beverly

Year: 2013

Image Size: 18" x 40"

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Two Lipped Silence: Vessel

Say Her Name Series

“Vessel” is the first piece in the “Two-Lipped Silence” series which addresses roles and perceptions of women in society while giving recognition to many of the women by name who have lost their lives at the hands of policing systems. Too often, black women seem to be invisible and omitted from the discussions about violence, policing, and social justice. As we quietly read and speak aloud their names, we must remember all women are more than a vessel, accessory or a trophy.

Designer: Elka Stevens

Media: Graphic

Year: 2016

Size: 16" x 20"

According to Elka...

...[T]his dressy-casual fusion will be heralded by innovations in...performance textiles...due to the growing need for material that presents a polished image while remaining [breathable} and comfortable... (Referencing post-COVID clothing trends)

Elka Stevens in "D.C. Designers React to Post-Pandemic Fashion Trends",District Fray, July 2021

...[Purple is] a colour of significance in the black community - one tied to the Christian experience as well. (Referencing the Vice President Kamala Harris' inaugural attire)

Elka Stevens in "Inauguration Fashion: Purple, Pearls, and Mittens",BBC News, January 2021

Contact

Email, Mail, or Call

Use the form below to write and send Elka Stevens a message.

  • Phone: 443.431.3605
  • Email: elka@elkastevens.com

  • Mailing Address:
  • P. O. Box 4752
  • East Lansing, MI 48823
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