Sunday, January 13, 2019

Create Your Story

 "Shelter" - image by Brooke Shaden (more of her images here)

I have admired Brooke Shaden's fine art photography since I first found her on Flickr about 10 years ago.   When I starting posting to Instagram, I was happy to see she had also an account and started following her there.  She has offered photography classes and workshops in the past, and in late December she posted about a two-week, online, "Create Your Story Challenge" she was organizing for January 1 - 14th.  The registration fee was pay-what-you-can, with 30% of the donations going towards a charity established by Shaden that teaches photography to victims of human trafficking.  She hoped to get 1,000 people registered and I decided to be one of those 1,000 people.

Tomorrow is the last day, and it has most definitely been challenging, and much more time consuming than I anticipated (although, I'm not really sure what I anticipated).  On January 1st, we received a downloadable workbook, and four videos demonstrating Shaden's creative process for her work, and each day since then we have received an email with questions for that day and a social media prompt.  There were also some "create" days, followed by "analyze and feedback" days, and three live video chats with Shaden spread over the two weeks.   I was at home for the first two days of the challenge so there was time available to devote to this, but then when I went back to work, I felt pressured for time to complete the exercises and do justice to the process, and despite my best intentions, quickly fell behind.   I learned during the first live video chat that I was not the only participant struggling to keep up; the good thing is that we can take a long as we want to complete the challenge, and the hope is that we will continue the practice after the two weeks are over.  

One benefit I have found is that because we are encouraged to devote part of each day to thinking and acting creatively, I have been inspired to shoot more, which is definitely one of the things I hoped to achieve by doing the course.   On New Year's Day, I asked my neighbour, Natalie, if she would come out with me to take a few photos - I had some vintage furs I wanted to document as they were disintegrating, and although it was quite cold, we had no snow, so it was as good a day for an outdoor shoot as we would likely get in January.

I wore an ankle-length blue-green velvet dress I purchased from a friend's vintage store several years ago, a fox fur hat (from a consignment store), and two vintage fur pieces that I rescued from being thrown away, which, sadly, are shedding and falling apart.  I had no particular theme or inspiration other than the pieces themselves, which have an old-school, Hollywood style glamour which contrasted nicely with the back alley/parking lot location.

I haven't worn my glasses for the last couple of shoots I've done; I felt they were out of place with the outfits I was wearing.  I noticed that I definitely feel more vulnerable without them (most likely because I can see two feet in front of me without them).

There is an empty lot near my house that is being dug up, and I thought it might make an interesting backdrop for some photos but I ended up not liking any of them except this one.  I am pretty sure the  coat is from the 1940's, based on the shape and design details.  Sadly, it has large splits in the side and the back caused by the fur drying out, which are not really noticeable until you move.  I love the  warm, rich colour of the fur, and the gorgeous sleeve detail.

detail of the fitted inner sleeve and vintage elbow-length gloves

The other piece I wanted to photograph was this lush fox fur stole, rescued from landfill, but unfortunately so dry that the slightest shake releases a cloud of white fur, and the pleated satin is badly stained.  I hope it led an exciting life before coming to me.   

Natalie caught a shot of the back view of the dress as I sprinted across the parking lot to get my coat when we were finished.

What's behind the door?  Hopefully good stuff!

The questions I've had to answer during this challenge have required some soul-searching: some examples include: "How is your life different now from what you thought it would be?", "Would the child that you were recognize the adult you've become?", "After you die, what do you want people to remember about you?" and "What do you stand for?"  They are questions that require time and effort to answer and I will continue to work my way through the challenge in the weeks to come.  I also hope to ride the wave of creative inspiration this process has initiated and push myself beyond my comfort zone.  I am excited to see what 2019 brings, but more importantly, I'm interested in what I will bring to it.

What are your hopes for this year?  Do you have projects you've been putting off, or dreams that have remained unfulfilled that you are determined to see come to fruition in 2019?

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Femmes Noires - Mickalene Thomas at the AGO

Hello!  Hope you had a nice "whatever you do or don't celebrate".  I am in the camp of the non-celebrators so I look forward to having time off work over the holidays so I can do a day trip or two and lie around on my couch with my cat, a book and Netflix.   After a few days of my own company I went to Toronto to the Art Gallery of Ontario with the intention to see the exhibit Anthropocene.  I arrived earlier than my designated ticket time, so I went upstairs to see the Mickalene Thomas exhibit, Femmes Noires.  I was not familiar with her, or her work, but the photos on the AGO website looked interesting, and as it turns out, I enjoyed her exhibit much more than the one I came to see.

*Warning - for those who are offended by the sight of women's naked breasts, you might want to stop now*

Le dejeuner sur l'herbe: Les trois femmes noires, 2010  - Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas is a contemporary African-American artist based in New York, who is known for her elaborate paintings that incorporate rhinestones, acrylic and enamel.   The exhibit at the AGO is her first large scale solo exhibit to be held in Canada.  The wall-sized painting in the above photo, which greets visitors to the exhibit, is Thomas' re-imagining of French artist Edouard Manet's painting Le dejeuner sur l'herbe (1863).  

From the exhibit:

"Mickalene Thomas puts Black women at the centre of her practice.  Her work celebrates the complexity and diversity of Black female identities as she tackles issues of equality and representation, filtered through a queer feminist lens....Thomas deliberately challenges the Western art-historical canon and creates new possibilities for seeing a range of Black bodies."

 Portrait of Maya #2, 2010 by Mickalene Thomas

The women in Thomas' work are beautiful, lush, and exude confidence and self-assurance.  Some, like the subject in the painting above, call to mind characters in the blaxploitation films of the 1970's.   The pieces in the exhibit incorporate painting, collage and photography and are incredibly decorative, visually accosting the viewer with colour, pattern and sparkling rhinestones.

 Living Room Tableaux - Do I Look Like a Lady (Comedians and Singers), 2016

The exhibit has three living room spaces Thomas refers to as "Tableaux" that contains colourful furniture and floor coverings where the viewer can sit and experience the art, read a book (each room contains a selection of books by black authors), or engage with other viewers.   Each room features a large scale video installation; "Do I Look Like a Lady" (above) features a split screen with comedians such as Wanda Sykes, Whoopi Goldberg and Moms Mabley on one side, and singers (including Josephine Baker, Nina Simone and Whitney Houston) on the other.   Another room is dedicated to images from the film The Color Purple which was adapted from the book of the same name by Alice Walker.  According to Thomas, "the book ignited a strength and spirit in me that have stayed until this day".

Diana Ross, 2016 by Mickalene Thomas.  Silkscreen ink and acrylic on acrylic mirror

While Thomas was growing up she admired Black women who defied racism and oppression to become cultural icons.  She and many other Black women were inspired by performers such as Josephine Baker, Nina Simone and Diana Ross, and Thomas has created powerful images of the iconic women who challenged the cultural norms of art history.  The mirror-based works (see above and in previous photo) begin with a polaroid from her collection which she then bleaches, scans and then photographs as it appears on her computer screen.  This is followed by further post-processing and the final image is then silk-screened onto a mirror.
Portrait of Kalena, 2017

The collaged work above directly references the cubist style of Picasso, who was partly inspired by highly stylized African masks which featured non-natural, but identifiable human faces.  By Thomas incorporating these geometric and mask-like shapes into her own work, she is owning the influence that her ancestors had on Western art. 

Me as Muse, 2016   Mickalene Thomas

In the video installation above, the artist's own nude body stretches across the multiple video screens, challenging our historical notions of beauty.  Other images that appear on the screens include those of 1970's textiles and famous works of Western Art that prominently feature female nudes.

Courbet #4, Courbet #5 and Courbet #2, all from 2011

The series of polaroid images above have many art-world references, included the titles, which refer to French painter Gustave Courbet.

Shinique: Now I Know, 2015, by Mickalene Thomas

Shinique, the woman in the collage/painting above, reclines on a colourful mix of fabrics.  She looks directly at the viewer with a confident stare that dares you to not find her strong but also vulnerable. 

Los Angelitos Negros, 2016

"Los Angelitos Negros" (little black angels) is centred on Eartha Kitt's performance of the song of the same name. One video screen features Kitt singing, while the other three feature Thomas and two other performers, styled like Kitt, lip-syncing the lyrics along with her.
Qusuquzah, Une Tres Belle Negresse #3, 2012

Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires runs until March 24th at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto

As this is my last blog post of 2018, I want to thank all of you who still visit, even though the frequency of posts has dropped considerably.  Your loyalty is much appreciated, and Sylvester and I wish all of you Peace, good health, and joy in 2019.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Power of Pink

The mission of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, programs and publications.  It is best known for its award-winning exhibitions, and I've been fortunate to see several over the last 6 years.  The Museum at FIT is always on my list of places to go when I visit New York in the fall.

The current exhibit in the Special Exhibitions Gallery is called Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Colour.  The exhibit features approximately 80 outfits from the 18th Century to the present, and places men's, women's and children's pink clothing from Western and non-Western cultures in a historical context.   

Many languages do not have a word for "pink", or have only developed one in the last few centuries.  "Rose" as an adjective of colour entered French language in the 18th century, and pink as a noun became part of the English language at the end of the 17th century. 

Man's metallic silk brocade banyan circa 1748 - 1760

In the 18th century in Europe it was considered perfectly masculine for men to wear the colour pink. It was also considered a colour to be worn by the young as it symbolized good health and vitality ("in the pink"). Pink and blue were considered interchangeable colours to be worn by children.  By the late 19th century some parents were starting to favour pink for girls.

 left to right:  silk velvet, metallic lace and silk crepe chiffon evening gown (1912-1914), Paquin silk chiffon evening cape, two-piece silk taffeta dress circa 1857

As Euro-American men increasingly preferred dark, sober colours like black and navy for their clothing, bright and pastel colours were left to women.  This feminization of colour was a significant development of the 19th Century.

 (l) Elsa Schiaparelli silk taffeta embroidered evening jacket (1947), (r) silk chiffon gown in Shocking Pink from Schiaparelli Paris (2015)

In 1936, Italian-born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli launched the colour "Shocking Pink".  In her memoirs, Schiaparelli recalled, "the colour flashed in front of my eyes.  Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving.....a colour of China and Peru but not of the West - a shocking colour, pure and undiluted."

By the 1950's, pink was strongly associated with femininity.  The decade had a strong focus on gender conformity, and fashions of the era were extremely age and gender specific.  The social turmoil of the late 60's lead to a "unisex" movement in fashion in the 1970's which temporarily quashed the appeal of pink for women's and children's clothing.  Feminists considered it a "childish" colour.  Then in the 1980's,  pink for little girls became popular again.  In the mid-1980's, the company Luvs introduced colour-coded diapers for babies - pink for girls and blue for boys.

In women's clothing, the pastel pinks of the 50's and 60's evolved into neon pink in the 1970's.   On the left is a Fiorucci cotton sateen flight suite, circa 1976.  The 60's and 70's brought the return of bright colours back into men's clothing as seen in the acetate satin and cotton velveteen man's suit on  from Granny Takes a Trip, circa 1971, on the right.

Yves Saint Laurent, who designed the dress in the above photo, was said to have loved the colour pink. This velvet dress with giant satin bow is among his most famous creations.

Pink is also associated with parts of the body related to sexuality - the title of Carrie Fisher's romance novel, "Surrender the Pink" is a colloquialism referring to male sexual advances on the female.

Actor/singer Janelle Monae wore a duplicate pair of the "Vagina Pants" above in the video for her song "Pynk" which celebrates female sexuality and the "pink parts of the body".  The pants were made by Duran Lantink.

Lips, another "pink part" of the body are represented by a vinyl hat by Stephen Jones for John Galliano, 2005

The leather dress on the left by Ghana-born designer, Mimi Plange, was inspired by African scarification.  According to the designer, "the light 'fleshy' pink was chosen to represent fresh open wounds, and the beauty they represent in traditional African scarification."  The faux ostrich coat on the right is by South African designer Thebe Magugu.

Pink can also be fierce and powerful, as seen in this floral print "body armor" for a woman warrior, designed by Rei Kawakubo for the Comme des Garcons "18th-Century Punk" collection from 2016

Two more of Kawakubo's designs from her "18th-Century Punk" collection can be seen in this photo.  In the foreground, a coat that played off of the punk's love of bad taste with its combination of hot pink and leopard print.  Behind it is a modern version of pre-revolutionary French fashion with ultra-wide shoulders and sleeves made of faux leather echoing the shape of the panniers that were worn under dresses from that era to extend the hips.

Cotton, nylon, wool, polyester, rayon and linen ensemble from 2018 by Comme des Garcons
Pink has long played an important role in Japanese culture but its greatest impact came during the late 20th century with the rise of Japanese girl culture and Lolita style with its emphasis on childish femininity.  Red, white and pink are Japan's favourite colours.   Traditionally in Western culture, the combination of red and pink is considered "clashing" but wearing colours that "clash" is now often encouraged in fashion. 

A beautiful silk chiffon, georgette and tulle dress with glass beads from Pierpaolo Piccioli's Spring 2017 collection for Valentino

A hot pink men's suit by Raf Simons for Jil Sander from Spring 2011, next to a draped dress by Phoebe Philo for Celine from Spring 2017.

This diorama of pink girls' toys was inspired by JeongMee Yoon's photograph, "Jeeyoo and Her Pink Things" (2007) which is used as a background.
In the 1990's, pink began to "toughen up" so to speak, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation gave pink ribbons to runners in its New York Breast Cancer Survivors' race.  In 1992 the pink ribbon became the official symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Other appropriations of the colour pink as fierce and powerful appeared in the last decade, most recently as the pink "Pussy Hats" worn by protesters in the Women's March in 2017.

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Colour continues at the Museum at FIT in New York until January 5th, 2019