Saturday, 17 August 2019

'Be true to yourself' and other exhortations

Social media is awash with hashtags such as 'be true to yourself', 'embrace yourself', 'worthy of love' and so on.
You know when you get too much of a good thing, yes? Every time I check my Instagram or Facebook feed and see these words dancing before my eyes, I feel physically sick. How many more times do I have to read this? What exactly are people saying?
I resent being continuously told to be true to myself. Remember when you were little, and you were asked all the time whether you had brushed your teeth? I could not bear it, even though it was my mother who asked, lovingly - and she certainly meant well.
Those who are telling me to be true to myself are perfect strangers who belong to a very fake virtual community. The hashtag often appears under a carefully airbrushed picture of a woman engaged in some activity or even unabashedly endorsing a product.
There are days when I honestly do not know myself at all. Do you?
Our identities are complex, and they are not fixed in time. Who we are is also determined by our social and cultural context. So 'being true to oneself' turns into a mere platitude, there is no 'authentic self', it is a construct.
It is a point that is well made in issue eight of the online journal Vestoj, a publication that discusses fashion in a critical mode.  In a very thoughtful piece, the journal's editors discuss authenticity and the self, with reference to fashion, asking whether it is possible to be authentic in fashion. I was struck by the sentence "Only by overcoming the accepted norms imposed on us by our social institutions – family, education, religion, government – can an individual begin to live a truly authentic life". And dress accordingly.

Our 'being true to ourselves' often becomes, predictably,  jumping on the latest bandwagon, with little or no reflection. The constant exhortations to be authentic turn into empty words, just fashionable slogans.
So next time you come across that laudable exhortation, 'Be true to yourself', you may want to dig a little to find out what this self might actually be. It might surprise you to find that, just like when you peel an onion, you are actually left with nothing - your 'selves' are all there, in those layers you have peeled off.  To which one of these are you being true?

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Weavers of the Clouds

I came to it rather late, as it has been going on since 21st June, but the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge, is fabulous.
Weavers of the Clouds is an introduction to the textile arts of Peru, and it includes an overview of contemporary fashion inspired by Peruvian textiles as also contemporary Peruvian art.
The Fashion and Textile Museum is "small but perfectly formed" as the saying goes. It is not as grand as the V&A and it probably works on a fraction of the V&A budget, but the exhibitions held at the museum are always a lovely experience for the visitor.
This one on Peruvian textiles is visually exciting and very informative. A small catalogue is given out to all the visitors thus it is easy to navigate the galleries. There are no labels, so the catalogue is a constant reference point.
The display is very good. I felt I could immerse myself in Peruvian textile art and really appreciated the references to contemporary fashion.

A collaboration between Chelsea College of Art and KUNA, Incalpaca, who produce and manufacture garments made from alpaca and vicuña resulted in a series of well thought out designs executed by the students. Two prizewinners were selected, Naphat Sintrirat and Ella Wall and works by eleven students were displayed in the exhibition.
The sheer colours of the weave and fabrics are enough to brighten up a gloomy day. I spent nearly two hours there and plan to visit again. I dabble in dressmaking and feel inspired to try out a few things!

What we learn from such an exhibition is the importance of finding out about, and collaborating with skilled craftsmen, creating a fashion that is durable and sustainable and which is respectful of a community's identity.   A fashion for the 21st century, drawing on age-old traditions and techniques.
I definitely go along with that.