FASHIONABLE HYBRIDS (2010-2011)
The “Fashionable Hybrids” series evolved from my “Dressed Up” series (2009-2010), the
photomontage portraits constructed from fragments of bodies and fashion associated with
Hip-Hop and Victorian/contemporary haute couture. The “Dressed Up” series dramatized
the visible difference between the two modes of dress and the social worlds they invoke in
order to dismantle the usual cultural and social boundaries cloth imposes on bodies, and to
challenge the ways human beings are defined by what they wear. The “Fashionable
Hybrids” series goes even further. In it, visual elements from Disney cartoon, Japanese
Anime and Manga, medieval fashion, military outfits, and contemporary couture fashion
collide with pictorial forms inspired by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Roy
Lichtenstein, Jan Vermeer, Gustav Klimt, Dominique Ingres and Édouard Manet.The resulting figures, with their quirky and delirious anatomical structures, revel in their hybridity, as if they are proud
avatars of extreme fashion.
THE “DRESSED UP” SERIES
“Dressed Up” was conceived while conducting research at the Smithsonian Archives as a Smithsonian Artist-Fellow in 2008. The series consists of full-length photomontage portraits of characters dressed in a runway mash-up from two different cultural eras: the 19th Century Victorian and present day hip-hop. The Victorian era was the age of empire and colonization that is no longer “in fashion”, though the global, political, and economic structures and systems it produced remain very salient in the postcolonial age. In contrast, Hip-hop fashion was originally part of a performative, radical, social politic in the United States. The music and lifestyle associated with it served as powerful platforms from which to challenge entrenched systems of sartorial propriety. Although hip-hop fashion embodies and asserts African American creativity and independence in its later metamorphoses, it was absorbed into the hyper-materialism and global capital.
The series explores symbolic codes of high fashion as imagined by hip-hop avatars and designers of historical haute couture. In bringing the two traditions into direct confrontation in these photomontages, this work plays on the usual prejudices or social boundaries imposed on bodies by cloth, but also the ways we imagine personalities through dress. The series suggests that the sense of decorum and gravitas conveyed by haute couture/Victorian fashion belies the colonial violence and decadence of that age; conversely, the near-criminalization of hip-hop fashion fails to contend with the humanity of many of its avatars or their status as respectable global citizens.
The “Dressed Up” series is an irreverent essay on the hybridity and syncretism of contemporary postcolonial society. The photomontages speak to the unpredictability of the outcome of encounters between the self and its other, between the old and the new, between the normative and the extraordinary.