Tag Archives: art

Mary Sibande

Inspired by the explorations of race, gender and sexuality in the work of American artists Kara Walker and Cindy Sherman, and London-based Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, Mary cast her own body in fibreglass and silicone to create Sophie. She then painted her a “flat black,” so that she stands out like a dark and static shadow … Sophie’s eyes are always closed as if in a “constant ecstasy of fantasy” and it’s in her mind that her dress becomes a thing of voluminous Victorian splendour. “If she opened her eyes, it would be back to work – cleaning this, dusting that. Her dress would become an ordinary maid’s uniform,” said Mary.

Elle Decoration ZA (Cited at M. Dash)

The body, for Sibande, and particularly the skin, and clothing is the site where history is contested and where fantasies play out. Centrally, she looks at the generational disempowerment of black women and in this sense her work is informed by postcolonial theory, through her art making. In her work, domestic setting acts as a stage where historical psycho-dramas play out.

Sibande’s work also highlights how priviledged ideals of beauty and femininity aspired to by black women discipline their body through rituals of imitation and reproduction. She inverts the social power indexed by Victorian costumes by reconfiguring it as a domestic worker’s “uniform” complexifying the colonial relationship between “slave” and “master” in a post-apartheid context. The fabric used to produce uniforms for domestic workers is an instantly recognizable sight in domestic spaces in South Africa and by applying it to Victorian dress she attempts to make a comment about history of servitude as it relates to the present in terms of domestic relationships.

Gallery MOMO

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LINKAGE: T-Shirts, “The Colour of Beauty,” Fatuosity, American Able, Tavi vs. Terry

These first few links are for Hoang, who responded to a query on our Facebook and requested that we consider the function of the t-shirt in politics. Hoang is specifically thinking about the thousands of “red shirt” anti-government protesters in Thailand. As Michelle points out in the comments, the political situation is far more complicated than Western press reports can convey, and I know virtually nothing about the histories leading up to the present conflict. The most I can say about it is there are certainly precedents for political movements to adopt a textile or a garment as a signifier of solidarity (e.g., Gandhi’s khadi cap for anticolonial Indian independence), and as Minh-Ha mentioned, t-shirts are often chosen as carriers for political messages because they are understood as a “democratic” garment (in the small-d sense): cheap to make, cheap to purchase.

This is not necessarily relevant to the rapidly escalating situation in Thailand, but it is one example of the t-shirt as a medium for a political message: You Might Find Yourself here discusses British designer Katherine Hamnett, who in 1983 wore her “58% Don’t Want Pershing” t-shirt to meet then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, of whom Hamnett was no fan.

But she decided to seize the photo-op [upon being named designer of the year by the British Fashion Council] to make a political statement. The United States had recently deployed controversial Pershing II guided missile being in West Germany, and Hamnett wore a slogan T-shirt declaring “58 per cent Don’t Want Pershing”, specifically ensuring that the lettering on the shirt would stand out in photographs. She wore it under her stylish jacket, and removed the jacket just before meeting the prime minister. She made headlines the next day.

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Also in t-shirts, Kathleen Hanna is hosting a contest to design a Julie Ruin t-shirt, the only project she’s been involved with that hasn’t had one. The deadline is June 1st! Check out the entries so far here, here, here, and here.

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From Racialicious, Latoya Peterson posts on The Colour of Beauty (dir. Elizabeth St. Phillips, 2010), a short documentary film that follows up-and-coming black model, 24-year-old Renée Thompson, as she tries to get cast for New York’s Fashion Week, with a partial transcript. The film is part of a series from Work For All: Films Against Racism in the Workplace, a project in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada and Schema Magazine. (You can watch the video at Racialicious or Work For All. I can’t for the life of me get it to embed here!) Reflecting upon an agent’s explanation that “white” features read as “elegant,” Latoya prompts, “And the idea of white faces as ‘elegant’ implies that those who do not carry those features cannot have an elegant face. I’d love to see a list of fashion codewords. Readers, what do you think?” Really, it’s a great exercise in the codes of race discourses about beauty and ugliness.

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Fatuous, self-described as “fat, girl, academic, writer, Australian, chronic procrastinator, fashion slave,” is in the midst of writing a dissertation on fat embodiment and sexual subjectivity. Love it! Check out Fatuosity, in which she shares her reading lists and smart observations about the myth of a “natural” body, fat and sexuality, “fat diva citizenship” (borrowing from incredible scholar Lauren Berlant), and a fat aesthetics:

A recognition that fat bodies are different to thin bodies (and different to other fat bodies, and that thin bodies are different to other thin bodies, and that the line between fat and thin is pretty impossible to locate definitively) and that finding ways to make a fat body look as much like a thin body as possible is not necessarily the ultimate aim of the game.  That there might be a way of fashioning fat bodies, of valuing the visuals that doesn’t have to be about ‘curves’ and cleavage (although it can be), that isn’t about adapting and adopting a certain set of standards, that isn’t about ‘what’s inside’ being the only thing that counts.

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In online magazines, we’re excited that the beautiful Style Sample released its newest issue, featuring Shini Park from Park and Cube as its cover girl and an article about fashion photographer Shae Acopian Detar authored by Fashion Intel’s Natalie. And the always smart Worn Fashion Journal posted this interview conducted by Julia Caron (of à l’Allure Garçonnière) with the creators of American Able, the American Apparel parody by photographer Holly Norris and model Jes Sachse. I particularly like these answers:

What do you hope people will take away from the American Able series?

Holly: I’m really interested in where it will be seen. It is showing on digital screens that are typically ad space, and has the potential to make people do a double take and question what they are seeing and how it differs from a regular ad. I think the realization that it’s a spoof makes people question and critique why – why do they only ever see able-bodied people in fashion advertising? People with visible disabilities are rendered invisible by mass media, and I think the reactions to American Able really highlight that. Even when there are claims of ‘diversity’ it is usually really lacking, to say the least. One rarely sees people with disabilities in advertising, unless it’s in a group photo and then it often seems more tokenizing than anything else.

Jes: It’s Holly’s project, but personally? I hope people see these ads in the TTC, laugh, and put on something skin tight when they go home and stare at their bodies. It’s like an invitation to a healthy dose of vanity. Why does fashion necessarily have to give people complexes? I’d love to be a model. I love designers and fashion, it’s art on bodies. I guess I love modeling because I feel like I embody a piece of that stare in my own work. That “I see you lookin’ at me” stare. I know I don’t look like a stereotypical model, and I like my body, but I get stared at a lot, in a different way. So when I pose, I have the opportunity to engage with my voyeurs. Or act indifferent about their gaze. Or make them question the politics in their stare. Or seduce them. Or pierce them. It’s really fun.

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Lastly, though I’m sure by now “everyone” has seen it, I need to give some blog love to Tavi Gevinson, a.k.a. Style Rookie, for her fearless foray in feminisms and her recent post calling out photographer and industry darling Terry Richardson for his sexual assaults on models, and as well those who support him. With all the blunt and sawed-off sarcasm of a whip-smart teenaged girl, she skewers at least ten of their excuses in one fell blow:

And, let’s clarify: you don’t love women just because you have sex with them and like taking pictures of their ladyparts. I’m not saying that’s all Richardson does, but “love” entails “respect” and also “the basic human decency to not use pictures of someone’s lady parts for your photography show without her permission” and also “the basic human decency to not pressure a girl into giving you a hand job because OH MY GOD I WILL LITERALLY NOT BE ABLE TO PRESS THE FLASH BUTTON ON MY CAMERA UNLESS YOU TAKE NOTICE OF THE FACT THAT I HAVE NO PANTS ON. ALSO I’M A PROFESSIONAL.”

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ART: Pillowig (Joo Youn Paek)


“Pillowig” is hand made wearable pillow comforting tireness of people in daily lives, enabling users to sleep comfortably whenever and whenever they’d like. When user test is done in public spaces – subway, airplane, library, class room and laundromat, viewers commented: “I would like to have it for my trip.”, “Very funny.” “This is practical, but a laugh, too.” I made 50 limited editions and sold 47 pieces at the exhibition of the work and gained “Pillowig” fans. Two months later fans did a group performance piece at the Old Palace, Seoul. — Joo Youn Paek

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ART: “Personnes”





I am stunned (as was Susie Bubble, from whom I snatched these) by these photographs’ intimation of the tremendous physical scope of French artist Christian Boltanski’s “Personnes,” an Monumenta installation in the Grand Palais in Paris. (Monumenta is an annual installation series in which a leading international contemporary artist is invited by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication to create a new work for the Nave of the Grand Palais).

Susie confesses to feeling teary, and it’s easy to see why. These clothes conjure the specters of the persons who wore them in some unspecified “before” –perhaps before growth, before divorce, before illness, before death– which the project’s description would appear to confirm: “Conceived as a work in sound and vision, Personnes takes up a new theme in Boltanski’s work, building on his earlier explorations of the limits of human existence and the vital dimension of memory : the question of fate, and the ineluctability of death.”

The two parts of the installation that I can see from these photographs suggest both memorials in the carefully measured, uniformly spaced rectangles laid with a single layer of clothes –calling to my mind the sheer physical expanse of the iconic AIDS Memorial Quilt— and a garbage dump in the giant heaping pile of assorted garments at the other end of the Nave. The installation thus suggests something about the seemingly arbitrary nature of human classification between those we treasure and those we discard. (The same classification that the AIDS Memorial Quilt once challenged, but arguably now reinforces.) Or, as Judith Butler writes, “Certain lives are grievable, and others not, and this works to sanctify the violence we inflict, and to disavow any conception of our own precarity.”

(Images borrowed from Style Bubble, who borrowed from a Flickr selection)

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ART: Sonic Fabric Ties

Fashion and music share a long and complex history. The conceptual artist Alyce Santoro is intertwining these histories in intriguingly material ways by repurposing audiocassette tapes into mixed media eco-fashionable ties (from $90 – $140). Most fabulous is the synaesthetic component of the sonic fabric. From a description on Ecouterre‘s website: the ties are “‘playable’ when you run a tape head across the surface.” Fashion you can both see and hear!

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ART: Highway to Heel

Earlier this year, the Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College presented the first exhibition to address the intersection between disability identity and female identity in RE/FORMATIONS: Disability, Women, and Sculpture. The following is an excerpt from the exhibition essay, “Leaving Venus Behind,” by Davidson College English professor and co-curator Ann M. Fox.

One corner of [Harriet Sanderson’s] Molt, with Scurs is made up of multiple pairs of high-heeled shoes, lined up against a wall, their heels fashioned from the tips of canes. There’s both kinship and whimsy in this installation. Sanderson’s use of a curved cane tip for the heel of a woman’s dress shoe makes the point that such dress footwear can limit the mobility of even the most ambulatory user in the name of beauty, rendering them fully stopped, as if against a wall. And the high-heeled shoe is, of course, unstable and impractical for the body with limited mobility. But the installation also creates the hybridized cane/shoe as an object of whimsy and playfulness, reminding us that canes and shoes are, after all, paired to create mobility in their actual lives as objects. The normal heels of the shoes have been amputated from the bodies of the footwear and lay scattered about the gallery with other cane tips that seem to have exploded free from the “cane chair.” As the viewer looks at the new shoe/cane creations, there’s something sexy and dangerous about the sinuous hooks of the highest heels, a rendering of disability as vehicle for haute couture. Ultimately, these shoes are not a simplistic reinforcement of ableist metaphors to critique beauty norms; they become a kind of expression of alternate movement and “disability cool.”

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ART: Sneakers and Borders

After several years of design research, in 2005 New York-based Argentinian artist Judi Werthein designed a high-top sneaker for both the sneaker freak collecting limited editions, to whom the sneaker is available for $215 a pair at a San Diego boutique, and for the Mexican migrant preparing to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, to whom Werthein and her partners gives the sneaker for free. (Thank god Kathleen Hanna is blogging, or I wouldn’t have heard about Werthein.) From Delete the Border:

A compass and flashlight dangle from one shoelace. The pocket in the tongue is for money or pain relievers. A rough map of the border region is printed on a removable insole….

The [Brinco] shoes were introduced in August at inSite, an art exhibition in San Diego and Tijuana whose sponsors include nonprofit foundations and private collectors. [From the BBC: “The artist was commissioned…to develop a project that “intervened” in some aspect of border life.“]

Benefactors put up $40,000 for the project; Werthein gets a $5,000 stipend, plus expenses….

Across the border, several curious migrants waiting for sunset along a cement river basin approached Werthein as she took white shoe boxes out of a sport utility vehicle. One man already wore a dirty pair of Brincos. Another, Felipe de Jesus Olivar Canto, slipped into a size 11 and said he would use them instead of his black leather shoes.

“These are much more comfortable for hiking,” said Olivar Canto. He said he was heading for $6.75-an-hour work installing doors and windows in Santa Ana, about 90 miles north of border.

From there, Werthein went to Casa del Migrante, a Tijuana shelter that will receive a share of the proceeds from Brincos sold in the United States.

“Does it have a sensor to alert us to the Border Patrol?” joked Javier Lopez, 33, who said he had a $10-an-hour job hanging drywall waiting for him in Denver.

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