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Diva exhibition to open at Victoria and Albert Museum

Updated: Sep 9

The 'diva' label has been given to countless female performers over the years, from Barbra Streisand to Ariana Grande. And it usually isn't a compliment, with associations of unreasonable demands and unrealistic expectations. Remember when Mariah Carey refused to 'do stairs.'

But now the V&A is going to reclaim the term in one of their big forthcoming exhibitions — and they've just revealed the full details of what visitors can expect.

DIVA will be a huge new show opening at the South Kensington museum on 24 June 2023, and it promises to celebrate the power and creativity of iconic performers. From the Opera goddesses of the Victorian era to today’s global megastars, it'll explore and redefine what it means to be a diva and how this has been subverted or embraced over time.

Whitney Houston in a spotlight on stage in a black and white photograph
Whitney Houston performing at Wembley Arena, London, UK 5 May 1988. Photo © David Corio

There'll be 250 objects on show drawn from the V&A collection and loans from across the world. These include over 60 diva 'looks' which have rarely been seen before, if at all. These include:

  • A stage ensemble worn by Maria Callas as Norma in the Covent Garden Opera Company production of Norma (1952)

  • The fringed black dress worn by Marilyn Monroe as Sugar "Kane" Kowalczyk in Some Like it Hot (1959)

  • Iconic costumes designed by fashion designer for the stars Bob Mackie, including looks worn by Tina Turner and P!nk

  • Sir Elton John's iconic Louis XIV-inspired look he wore to his 50th birthday celebrations, complete with towering powdered wig and train and designed by Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell

White fur coat and wig ensemble on a mannequin
Elton John 50th birthday look with wig and boat hat, designed by Sandy Powell, 1997 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A highlight for all diva-admirers will be Shirley Bassey’s couture pink gown and diamanté-studded wellington boots she wore on stage while playing the famous Glastonbury 'Legends Set' in 2007. Dame Shirley said she was "delighted" that her sparkling take on festival gear was being shown at the V&A Diva exhibition and that to her, the term 'diva' is "all about the power of the voice and the ability to entertain; to succeed against odds; [and] to fight, and break through barrier after barrier."

And if this wasn't diva-filled enough, the V&A promise the show will examine the divas of today and myriad of ways they embrace and utilise their divadom. There'll be displays looking at: the divas who have expanded their affairs into the worlds of business and big branding, such as Rihanna, Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand; the divas who used their voices to enable social and political change such as Billie Holliday, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald; and how the divas like Siouxsie Sioux and Missy Elliott shifted the needle into new genres. There'll also be several costumes worn by Cher across the decades, because how could there not be.

Kate Bailey, curator of DIVA, said that "At the heart of this exhibition is a story of iconic performers who with creativity, courage and ambition have challenged the status quo and used their voice and their art to redefine and reclaim the diva.”

Bailey said she was inspired to create the show after working on the V&A’s 2017 exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, which covered the male-dominated world of opera. “I started developing [the exhibition] when I was doing the opera show. I found that I was focusing a lot on male composers and the canon of male composers,” she told the Times.

Photograph of the three performers posing for photographs
Cher, Elton John and Diana Ross at Rock Awards Santa Monica Civic Auditorium 1975; Photo Mark SullivanContour by Getty Images

How much are V&A Diva tickets?

Tickets for Diva at the V&A went on sale in April 2023. Adult tickets are £20, student and under-26 tickets are £13. Under 12s go free! Get your DIVA tickets here.

DIVA will follow a major Donatello exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which will be the first ever major UK show on the Renaissance master. Then in September, Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto will open, which may well end up being the most-visited UK exhibition of the year too.

Find out what else is on at the V&A in 2023

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