DIVA at the London V&A Museum: Honouring Our Modern-Day Deities

By Jude Jones

The pop culture icon has ambivalent place in the museological canon.

Which is verbose way to say: historical-artistic institutions – the Louvre, the MOMA, the London Victoria & Albert – scarcely find place for the likes of Rihanna, Madonna, or Elton John in their official archives or haughty halls. Indeed, the word “icon”, to their presumably dust-laden ears, evokes more antiquated images of the religious icon – medieval saint’s relics, wilting devotional images, emaciated carvings of Christ – than it ever does anybody within the contemporary mass-culture zeitgeist. As Derek Jarman said in his Modern Nature, it’s a “mind full of the Middle Ages.”

Rihanna’s “Heavenly Bodies” dress from the 2018 Met Gala, designed by Margiela. The infamous look is one of over 80 garments on display at the exhibition.

However, if Twitter stan culture has taught us anything (and, it has certainly taught us a lot), it is that the icon, and more specifically the Diva – so glamorous and so divinely feminine as she is (the post-exhibition giftshop is surprisingly well stocked with copies of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique) – can become a digital-age deity of dizzying proportions as well, all necessary saint’s relics and devotional shrines uncannily included.


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