18 October 2013

Playing Dress-Up! Fashion, Gender Play, and the Politics of Embodiment: Workshop One

Bom Dia!

Last weekend, ReciclaGEM in partnership with the oh-so-fabulous, PhD candidate and gender play aficianado, Kelly McKay, facilitated our first fashion-think tank at UCLA. As part of the Hemispheric Institute's Graduate Student  Initiative's Convergence (GSI), we facilitated a set of digital and in-person dialogic spaces, where we engaged in discussion, academic presentations, dress-up, and conversation on the ways in which our garments facilitate political, social, and hegemonic spaces.

Lots of big fancy academic words, right?

Well, let me break it down this way.

We fly into the city of Los Angeles, California, USA, the home of Hollywood, the city of bright lights, big dreams, and gendered spaces. We, alongside hundreds of other PhD students, performance artists, professors, activists, and anti-imperialist visionaries from throughout the Americas, entered a series of audoritorum spaces where presenters discussed everything from Guahan's (Guam's) fight for sovreignty from the U.S. imperialism to artists serving as witnesses to the social climate of their times, and to ways that we can shake down the hegemonic walls of academia to create truly democratic, just, experimental spaces for thinking. Revisit some of these spaces here.

(Screenshot of panel "(T)racing the Archive" at USC. Full video here)

In between all of these panels, performances, and presentations, Kelly and I gathered a limited selection but nonetheless experimental set of highly gendered garments on a table with pieces of paper, and asked our brilliant four participants (who you shall here about in future posts very soon) and two wonderful faculty mentors to respond with their initial reactions.

Before participants were given any prior information on the garments, simply asked to respond viscerally, emotionally, intellectually, from the gut, these were some of the reactions.

Garment: Six 8,  iridescent sequined pants finished with elastic at waist and hem
Reaction: Looks like it belongs in a drag queen's wardrobe closet. The falling sequins and roughly sewn elastic are reminiscent of well-loved use.

Garment: Recycled button down shirt with train of ruffles
Reaction: "There were so many shades of white that I began to forget what 'white' looked like"
Garment: "Safe Darfur" Black and green message t-shirt
Reaction: Message t-shirts are offensive. The reportrayal of the women and children by the tree is a common trope of poverty porn. Message t-shirts only serve to brand the ideals of the person wearing.

The conversation, which traversed discussion on colorism, memory, and the classicism, among others, provided an effective icebreaker for participants to talk about their research. Without revealing too much of their evolving research, some of the topics, artists, and images discussed, shown and reacted to were the following:

(Zanele Muholi, "Miss Divine," 2007)

(Tommy Ton, Style.com"Street Style" Photographer, Spring 2014 Season)

(Chilean designer, Juana Diaz, Collection: Potencial Pandemia)

(1880 vs. 2012. How much has changed?)

*What are all of these images saying about gender, race, class, and the politics of embodiment?
 Feel free to comment below.*

Much of the discussion was open ended as an effort to following the guidelines of the conference's theme, "Experimental Collectivities."
The goal was not necessarily to assert a certain knowledge claim over fashion, gender play, and the politics of embodiment, but rather to introduce unseen or niche but highly provocative images, subjects, and garments to elicit the reactions that will create the connections of how garments work to create political, social and gendered spaces.

While our time in Los Angeles was brief, the conversation will continue in our ever-evolving digital workbook in preparation for the second workshop, set to take place October 2014 in New York City.

Join us in this experimental collectivity of bodies and minds invested in de-mechanizing the political, social, gendered, racial, classist, colorist nuances of our garments so that we can build new, balance, and just worlds.

Peace, love, and image activism,


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