Our research task was to create an annotated mood board with imagery relating to the recent show at the Hayward Gallery- 'Self Portraits and Body Politics.' The first thought that came to my mind was male femininity. Growing up in india, where society was not very open-minded or accepting towards gender fluidity, even though gender diversity has been deeply rooted in our history. Watching the country bloom and slowly accept - what they call the 'third gender'- 'Hijra', the male-to-female trans community, made me want to include this part of my origin in, my mood board. This opened my eyes to the rest of the world, and I noticed how the fashion industry as well has been moving towards a gender fluid space. Seen through a range of brands like Zara, Louis Vuitton, & other stories, river island, Gucci. Even Calvin Klein's unisex perfume and Selfridges 'Agender' concept space.
On doing more research, I heard about an exhibition at Unit London called 21st Century Women, unfortunately I could not get tickets for the show but I ended up learning so much from. it gave me a different take on the topic. I personally like Zoe Buckman's 'Every Curve' a collection of vintage lingerie with hand embroidered hip-hop lyrics that focused on feminism and female empowerment. What I liked about it was it's relevance across generations and its link to the past and present. I also really liked the way she incorporated text with the garment directly, and the fact that she hand-embroidered it gives it personal perspective of a woman to a wide range of audience.
Today we had a presentation where we were shown examples of various designers in order to assist us developing ideas along the lines of self-potraits and body politics. I personally liked Vanessa Beecrofts works, because of the manner in which she combines performance art. Her Prada collaboration in 2000, being one of the first such performances had a great impact in the industry, but also what intrigued me about the performance was the use of so many other elements in the performance- roses, cacti, sunflowers and artichokes.
The brief required us to use ourselves as a point of reference. This reminded me of the Mowalola Ogunlesi, Ruth Ossai and Ib Kamara collaboration. On first look, you can almost feel a sense of energy and spectrum of vibrant colours. She described the collaboration as "unapologetically black", and claimed that “It was more like a celebration of who we are rather than a photo shoot.” Apart from the brief, this is what inspired me to accommodate a bit of me in my piece.
The activity that we did after, where we were made to converse with someone without actually looking at them, but having something more intimate like physical contact seemed interesting but was quite difficult. We were to talk about our approach and ideas. I picked words from the conversation and began linking it to myself. our conversation moved from gender fluidity and how it is a controversy, to female masculinity, to cultural appropriation and cultural controversy.
My partner and I then went out and took pictures of each other and ourselves in order to mirror the same idea that we had in mind. This activity made things clearer to me. I wanted to focus on the aspect of body politics where society had control over the human body or the way each individual chose to present and recognise themselves. In order to show that society acted as a barrier to our identity, I wanted to take bold pictures with distinct barriers.
After re-interpreting the initial theme and looking back at the meaning of body politics- refers to the practices and policies through which powers of society regulate the human body, as well as the struggle over degrees of individual and social control of the body. I wanted to start with myself as a reference. Being a girl borne into a partially male dominated country like india, where our culture requires us to veil our faces, and cover our heads in public- an act that I have grown up witnessing. When I took a second look at the pictures I got from yesterday, I decided to use the reactions that I got from blindfolding myself and my partner, to represent the emotion that came with it- lost, anxious, confused, vulnerable. Which also reminded me of the 'Purdah System'- A practice followed by various religions in india that includes the seclusion of women from public observation by wearing concealing clothing from head to toe and by the use of high walls, curtains, and screens erected within the home. It reminded me of this, because it was a practice that was followed irrespective of what the women believed in. Society held the power and control over what they were to expose, and a female born in the time is made to practice it. However, the practice is still prevalent, in not only India but various other parts of the world, and in different forms. I attempted to represent barriers of society through the practice of purdah system I used a piece from the jewellery design project in diagnostic that represented the 'purdah system' and made a series of two pictures that resonated this concept and added a conversation derived by our conversation activity from yesterday and inspired by Sarah Bahbah . Even though the practice is not imposed by law it has an impact that is felt through the 'eyes' of society when a woman is 'too exposed' or uncovered, thus unintentionally giving society a form of power and control over our body.
Today was crit day. We were to leave our series, on the table and receive feedback from our classmates. The feedback was very helpful and inspired me to further develop my project. I decided to take a different approach of the concept that I was initially using- 'purdah system' to represent a barrier created by society. I attempted to portray the impositions of religion and culture through the 'purdah system' as an illusion cast by society. Thus, I decided to use shadows to represent a barrier created by society, in order to replace the solid and tangible 'purdah'-curtain by an intangible illusion- A Shadow.
I wanted to continue the idea of using another person as well as myself to mirror the idea and carry it forward. I used self-portraits and I wanted to have someone model for me, who was unaware to this concept of the purdah system and record her reaction. I did not want to use a male model for this, as even though I wanted a person unaware of the concept I still wanted to use a female to create a personal link of understanding for women facing such struggles. I experimented different types of shadows using elements of my tradition- jewellery, traditional head cover, ethnic fabrics and embroidery.
I also wanted my models to be in all white, as in my culture, we wear white for funerals. I did this in order to depict the death of this illusion cast by society.
My next task was to add text to my series. I wanted to add conversations of interviews pertaining to the topic of the drastic change in the fashion industry in india, in order to use my origin as a point of reference for my final piece instead of using my self-portrait, I used the hindu script for my text. The text is also of an interview in hindi of the indian designer- Manish Malhotra on the same topic as my experimented english text and interview.