By Emma Gleeson
Despite receiving lacklustre reviews by several prominent newspapers, I was utterly enthralled by this fascinating exhibition of clothing-related art. The pieces explored a broad range of themes including national identity, globalisation and media manipulation. Held in the GSK Contemporary gallery, the contemporary wing of the Royal Academy of Arts, ‘Aware: Art, Fashion, Identity’ explores the relationships between the three words of its title and, in the humble opinion of a lowly fashion history student, provides ample food for thought on the potential for clothing to express complex political ideas without the use of sensationalist slogan t-shirts.
Favourite pieces of mine include ‘Widow’ by Susie MacMurray; As the visitor enters the room they are struck by the glittering elegance of a couture dress which wouldn’t look out of place on an LA red carpet. On closer inspection the dress is made of harsh black leather (to represent skin) and hundreds of large outward-facing needles. The title reveals the dress to be an exploration of grief and the inability of the bereaved to take comfort in human contact, isolating themselves to protect against future heartbreak.
Also mention-worthy is Sharif Waked’s powerful video piece ‘Chic Point’ (2003), which shows a catwalk of male models wearing garments which reveal unusual parts of the body such as the lower back and the centre of the chest. When juxtaposed with footage of Israeli body searches the visitor is struck by the indignity of the forced removal of clothing and when the catwalk images return to the screen it is with a sinister and political resonance.
The piece which struck me the most was Hussein Chalayan’s ‘Son’ of Sonzai Suru, in which ninja-like Japanese Bunraka puppets are used to show how the perception of fashion is managed by its representation. I have always had a fascination with the brain-washing effects of labels and found this unsettling piece extremely powerful, if rather unsubtle.
All in all, a feast of food for thought served up in a beautiful space. Well worth a visit.