[CONVERSATION] Rainbow Shoe Repair: An Unexpected Theater of Flyness

Fashion scholar and co-curator Kimberly Jenkins moderates a conversation about fashion and the power of portraiture with photographer Zun Lee, scholar and cultural critic Tanisha C. Ford, and Elroy Gay, a fashion designer and longtime Lower East Side resident who is featured in the Rainbow Shoe Repair photography archive. Co-presented with United Photo Industries.

Rainbow Shoe Repair: An Unexpected Theater of Flyness will be on view at Abrons Arts Center and at select Henry Street Settlement campus sites from February 6 to March 29, 2020.


Kimberly Jenkins is a lecturer, researcher and consultant who specializes in the sociocultural and historical influences behind why we wear what we wear, specificallyaddressing how politics, psychology, race and gender shapes the way we ‘fashion’ our identity. Based in New York with a background in cultural anthropology and art history, she is a part-time lecturer at Parsons School of Design, Visiting Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, and amongst the pioneering cohort of graduates from the MA Fashion Studies program at Parsons. In Fall 2016, Kim debuted the undergraduate course ‘Fashion and Race’ at Parsons, examining the implications of the social construct of race in fashion history, business and image-making. In Spring 2019, Kim began work as an Education consultant for Gucci to support their efforts on cultural inclusion and diversity.

Zun Lee is an award-winning Canadian photographer, physician and educator. He was born an raised in Germany and has also lived in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago. He is a 2018 Knight Foundation Grantee, 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario Artist in Residence, and a 2015 Magnum Foundation Fellow. He currently resides in Toronto. Lee has been  globally recognized as one of the top emerging visual storytellers to watch. His focus on quotidian Black life has led to publications and mentions in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TIME, The New Yorker, Huffington Post, MSNBC, Washington Post, Forbes, and Smithsonian Magazine.

Tanisha C. Ford is a foremost voice, speaking at the intersection of politics and culture. She is an award-winning writer, cultural critic, and Associate Professor of Africana Studies & History at the University of Delaware. Tanisha is also a co-founder of TEXTURES, a pop-up material culture lab creating and curating content on bodies and the built environment. Her commitment to social justice and communities of color is evident in  everything she produces. Tanisha is the author of three books: Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion (St. Martins, June 2019), Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful (Aperture, May 2019), and Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (UNC Press, 2015), which narrates the powerful intertwining histories of the Black Freedom movement and the rise of the global fashion industry. Liberated Threads won the 2016 Organization of American Historians’ Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for best book on civil rights history. Her research has been supported by prestigious institutions such as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard), Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Center for Black Music Research, among others.

Elroy Gay moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side after a fire took the life of one of his 11 siblings and destroyed the family apartment. “Tha 6th Boro,” as Elroy came to call his adopted neighborhood, remains to him the place he calls home. While overcoming a reading disability that was hidden from even his closest friends, Elroy founded Tha 6th Boro, Inc., which sponsor community events, designs and produces urban apparel, and supports fellow artists and entrepreneurs in spreading messages of hope, positive lifestyles, and literacy.

United Photo Industries is a New York based non-profit organization that works to promote a wider understanding and increased access to the art of photography. Since its founding in 2011, UPI has rapidly solidified its position in the public art landscape by continuing to showcase thought-provoking, challenging, and exceptional photography from across the globe. In its first 7 years, UPI has presented the work of more than 2,500 visual artists in gallery exhibitions and public art installations worldwide. Proudly devoted to cultivating strategic partnerships, creative collaborations, and community spirit, UPI approaches its mission of cultivating a wide, diverse audience for powerful photographic narratives with unrelenting zeal, working closely with photo festivals, city agencies, and other nonprofit organizations across the globe to create new exhibition opportunities — and we are only getting started!


The 2019-2020 Season at Abrons Arts Center is supported, in part, by generous grants from the Howard Gilman Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Harkness Foundation for Dance, the Jerome Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, and other generous Henry Street Settlement funders. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Shawntel Dunbar, 1996