How many times do we look at something quickly and make a snap judgment about it? In what is often a one-second glance, we assess what we see and form an opinion about it given only the information and content we have in front of us. The ability to quickly make judgments is actually a survival mechanism that, evolutionary-speaking, has served us well.
However, are some things worth a second glance? Should we re-evaluate our thoughts and feelings about a particular subject to determine if our initial judgment was correct?
The exhibit at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center, Second Glances, tackles just that question in terms of gender and how the clothing we wear has come to define us – sending often conscious messages to other people about us. Introduced in April and running until June, Second Glances showcases the work of 20 Cincinnati area artists: “This exhibit is a way of asking ourselves why we wear what we wear and who we are.”
The open space of the Kennedy Heights Art Center was a beautiful platform to welcome the many pieces on display; walking from room to room gives us a chance to explore and learn as we go. Some pieces, such as Jenny Roesel Usticks’ four charcoal on paper pieces were placed around the exhibit for us to have the opportunity to see each piece and read its message continually throughout. This gave a stronger impact then seeing all four pieces in one space. The charcoal on paper over panel work was a play on the famed Grunge & Glory editorial in Vogue Magazine’s December 1992 edition. Instead of drawing the editorial as shown in its original form, Usticks removed the models to allow the viewer to make judgment without a gender element. Her thesis, well taken, was this when Vogue “broke” grunge.
Throughout the exhibit, works that stripped away and questioned the biases of gender instilled in clothing by us all were most impactful. Dress the Part by Karen Saunders on the outset looked like Chanel’s take on the west with clothing of all types in stark white set on wooden tables and trunks. Gaze at it further and all of the pieces were handcrafted by Saunders using found objects, paint and paper. Each piece was created in white to ask the viewer to make judgments on the form of the object without the interjection of color and pattern. She left the question open for the audience to interpret … I found myself looking at the pieces in whole new ways, not questioning automatically if this was for a woman or a man.
The Good Bones pieces created by Theresa Kramer took a similar approach, saying and showing that hats (bowler, bolero and top hats specifically shown) are the same shapes for men and women. It’s the adornment that ties it to a specific gender. In addition to being visually impactful thanks to its use of wire, wire mesh and wood, it was an especially salient point and one this author had never considered before.
Other pieces in the exhibit were self-reflective and shone a light on the artist’s inner dialogue in terms of their own personal gender expression. For artists such as Sea Dax and Pam Kravetz to lay bare their emotions was impressive and gave a poignant meaning to the exhibit.
Incredibly thought provoking as well was Carla Lamb’s individual pieces of embroidered messages. Clothes don’t make the man so don’t tell me what to wear. Dress for success. Button Up. These words, ones we hear but never really take in, were brought to life when stitched on their corresponding garments. These pieces were not pretty to the eye in the traditional way which made the experience even more visceral.
The topic of defined gender roles could not be more prevalent in today’s society as we are all questioning the status quo, from the gender pay gap to #MeToo. In a myriad of ways, the artists presented in Second Glances showed how pieces of clothing not only define us to the world at large, but they also determine the specific messages we are sending to that world.
On the outset, it would seem that we (women and men) are then passive followers of what our clothing says. But, if we can control the message our apparel gives, can’t we then change it?
We can choose to dress against the grain, against the message our clothing naturally dictates. There’s power in being able to make clothing an instrument of change, and sometimes, rebellion. When we often feel out of control with the world’s events, it is comforting to know we can stand up and make a statement. It doesn’t have to be vocal, you can say so much with clothing. No words needed.