top of page

What Does It Mean To Be A Diva? A New Exhibition At V&A Explores And Celebrates The Concept

What does it mean to be a diva? Is it a term of praise or criticism? How has the concept of diva evolved over time and across different media? These are some of the questions that a new exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) aims to explore and celebrate.

Titled "DIVA", the exhibition features some 60 costumes and 250 items from screen sirens and stage stars from the 19th century to today, many displayed for the first time. The exhibition is divided into four sections: Opera, Stage, Popular Music and Film, each showcasing the power and creativity of iconic performers, as well as the challenges and stereotypes, as well as the challenges and stereotypes they faced.

The original divas were opera's leading ladies, or prima donnas, who enjoyed independence and agency that few women had at the time. The exhibition features portraits and costumes of legendary singers such as Adelina Patti, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Jessye Norman, who dazzled the audience with their vocal skills and dramatic presence.

The stage section highlights the role of divas as innovators and trailblazers in theatre, dance, and musicals. From avant-garde dancer Isadora Duncan, who liberated herself from restrictive corsets to flowing gowns, to double Oscar winner Vivie Leigh, who wore a stunning Christian Dior dress in 1958, to Sir Elton John, whose flamboyant 50th birthday outfit proves that divas don't have to be female, the exhibition showcases the diversity and charisma of stage divas.

The popular music section explores how divas have used their voices, image, and style to express themselves and influence culture. From Billie Holiday, who sang about social issues and faces racism and addition, to Cher, Elton John, and Diana Ross, who reinvented themselves and embraced glamour, to Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and Lizzo, who challenged norms of beauty, sexuality, and body image, the exhibition celebrates the impact and empowerment of pop divas.

The film section examines how divas have been shaped by and have shaped the movie industry, from silent film's femme fatales to Hollywood's golden era to today's A-list celebrities. The exhibition features images and artefacts of stars such as Theda Bara, one of cinema's early sex symbols who starred in 1917's Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, whose screenprint by Andy Warhol is on display, Rihanna, who has transcended music to become a fashion and beauty mogul and many more.

The exhibition also explores the darker side of being a diva, such as the pressure, criticism, exploitation, and harassment that many divas have faced throughout their careers. The exhibition challenges the negative connotation of the word diva, such as being arrogant, demanding, or difficult, and invites visitors to reconsider what it means to be a diva in today's world.

"DIVA" is a tribute to the talent, courage, and creativity of performers who have inspired generations of fans and artists. It is also a reflection on how divas have been subverted or embraced over time across opera, stage, popular music, and film.

The exhibition opens on Saturday, 24 June 2023 at V& A South Kensington and runs until March 2024. It is supported by Spotify.


bottom of page