Bodily Beings by Nnenna Okore for Fashion Outlets Chicago

Macerich’s Fashion Outlets of Chicago is “Where Art Meets Fashion” and where shoppers meet both. That’s because in addition to more than 130 designer outlet stores, the 530,000-square-foot mall is home to “The Collection”—a program that offers contemporary art commissions and rotating exhibitions on site. Now through June 8, the work of artists Nnenna Okore, Leonard Suryajaya and Assaf Evron is on view thanks to curator Cortney Lederer of CNL Art Consulting, who shared her vision in a recent interview.

Janet Arvia: Why is it important to exhibit art in places other than galleries and museums?

Cortney Lederer: Artists deeply impact and shape our communities. They identify alternative ways of thinking and bring new ideas to the forefront in innovative ways. Artists actively engage our imagination, and make meaningful change in the world. If we know that this is what artists and art has the capacity to do, then the spaces outside of traditional art institutions are incredibly valuable. They create new possibilities for dialogue and engagement that are essential…While [Okore, Suryajaya and Evron] have distinct practices, their work together creates an interesting dialogue, especially within the context of the Fashion Outlets of Chicago.

The Collection for Fashion Outlets of Chicago

JA: How does Nnenna Okore’s work complement and/or juxtapose a fashion mall context?

CL: Nnenna Okore’s work in particular, with its organic shape and fibrous materials, speaks directly to the body and shares a vocabulary with many of the explorations fashion designers are considering today. Her processes are inspired by traditional women’s practice, the African environment, third-world economies and recycled waste. She takes a socially conscious approach to her work in the same way that many fashion designers are thinking through their own concerns around environmental sustainability, material reuse, waste and feminist practices. Nnenna’s work also provides visitors with the opportunity to reflect on consumer culture and how the choices we make impact our environment and other cultures outside of just our own…I know Nnenna is also interested in exploring the dialogue her work can have with the fashion world. I think this proved to be an interesting setting to think about these relationships more explicitly.

JA: How does “The Collection” benefit artists and their audiences?

CL: It offers an opportunity for dynamic works of art to be accessible to a variety of visitors, several who might not traditionally visit a museum or gallery. It creates a wonderful opportunity for artists to expand the context of how their work is seen and received and has the potential to directly impact their practice…[It] expands how works of art get out into the world and broadens the context of who gets to participate and engage with it.

“The Collection: Where Art Meets Fashion” is on view at Macerich’s Fashion Outlets of Chicago, 5220 Fashion Outlets Way, in Rosemont. For more information, visit and To learn more about “The Collection,” visit

(Photo credit: Jim Prinz)

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.