The Pick - Cloak and dagger

December 9, 2010

Aware: Art Fashion Identity

Royal Academy of Arts, until 30 January 2011

Susie MacMurray's Widow looks like a great black glistening ball gown, perfect for a Hollywood star at a grand reception. It is only as one approaches that it suddenly becomes disquieting as well as compelling. For this is a "dress" made out of dressmaker's pins, rich in possible narratives of domesticity, perversion and oppression.

Clothes can be designed to seduce or to keep the world at bay, may be banners of identity or confrontational statements. This dazzling new exhibition brings together fashion designers and practising artists to create works that, while they often celebrate the glitzy pleasures of beautiful clothes, also remind us of all the things fashion can confront or conceal.

The Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, for example, uses spectacular "African fabric" batiks - often, in reality, made in the UK or the Netherlands - for dresses designed in the most traditional Victorian style. Although undeniably beautiful, they also make a powerfully direct statement about the distortions of colonial identities and Shonibare's own status as a "post-colonial hybrid".

Sharif Waked's Chic Point starts on the catwalk, with glamorous and otherwise richly attired young men displaying unexpected bare midriffs or other patches of skin. It is only later that the scene mutates to a landscape of Israeli checkpoints, where shirts have to be lifted to ensure that no weaponry or explosives are being hidden.

These are both pretty straightforward works, but others are much more mysterious or melancholic. What are we to make of Rosemarie Trockel's two-headed Schizo-Pullover, photographs of a life-size cashmere whale or the elaborate reflective umbrellas Vito Acconci calls "umbrufflas", like parachutes wearers can use to conceal themselves? Another piece of "wearable architecture" is Azra Aksamija's Nomadic Mosque, including a jacket that can be transformed into an Islamic prayer rug or a Jewish prayer shawl.

Perhaps surprisingly, Katerina Sedá even found a fashion-related means of addressing her concerns about growing apathy and isolation in a nearby Czech town - by printing images of a bright 1970s multicoloured housing project on to dozens of shirts and mailing them to local people in an attempt to break down barriers.

The final great truth about clothes is that they always hide the frail, vulnerable and decaying body beneath. Dai Rees takes 1950s leather tailors' patterns and twists them into carcasses hanging from the ceiling on meat hooks.

The exhibition ends with a video of Marina Abramovic's striking Imponderabilia from 1977, a performance in which she and a male companion stood as naked sentries at the entrance to an art gallery in Bologna. Plump visitors fight their way through a tunnel of flesh. Others don't know where to look - or know exactly where they want to look.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.


Featured jobs