Political Underpinnings: Considering Zoe Buckman’s Every Curve in the age of #MeToo

I first learned of contemporary artist Zoe Buckman’s work two years ago when I read about her solo exhibition, Every Curve, at Papillon Gallery in Los Angeles. I was fascinated by her project, which incorporates hand-embroidered text onto women’s vintage lingerie. The words Buckman included are lyrics from hip hop songs that make reference to women, often with sexist overtones. She has explained that she grew up in East London listening to rappers like Biggie and Tupac, and that their lyrics had an impact on her consciousness. Her body of work reconciles her love of hip hop with her feminist beliefs.

Buckman selected garments from the beginning of the 1900s through the 1960s, which demonstrate changing ideals of the female body over the course of the 20th century. There is a sort of nostalgic pleasure in looking at the delicacy and feminine beauty of vintage lingerie. Juxtaposed with the toughness and machismo of hip hop, I saw Buckman’s work as an act of rebellion. I also appreciated the nod to the historically feminine craft of embroidery used to express song lyrics with masculinist, womanizing content. Generally, I found this project playful and lighthearted, a fun contrast between two disparate things I enjoyed personally.

Since 2016, there has been a rather alarming turn of events in the arena of American media. We have seen the election of a President who boasts of grabbing women ‘by the p****’, the confirmation of a Supreme Court judge accused of multiple sexual assaults, and the outpouring of women who have exposed prominent Hollywood figures of sexual misconduct igniting the #MeToo movement. All of this is rather appalling, but not new. This is the pattern of history, where dominance and privilege are rewarded with more power.

Over the past months, I have found myself often thinking about Buckman’s work. In the age of #MeToo, it has become painfully clear that women’s bodies remain a battleground, a site on which to reinforce patriarchal power through sexual violence. Reconsidering Every Curve again today, there is something eerie and disturbing about such intimate garments exposed in such a way. They recall a time when women had less choice, less freedom, and less of a voice. Strung from the ceiling together in a room, they take on a spectral quality, and among them we can hear the echoes of women struggling to be heard. These garments are intrinsically tied to female sexuality and femininity, and, when superimposed with the often domineering words of male musicians, become a symbol of the exercise of patriarchal power over the female body.

Previously, I appreciated the contextualizing of a male-dominant hip hop culture in terms of women’s dress, but now I understand them with a different kind of imperative, one that makes reference to violence and silenced narratives. Buckman’s work exposes the intimacies and intricacies of gendered power dynamics through dress, revealing and engaging with the nettles of difficult histories. Addressing violence currently and historically is an endeavor as difficult as it is necessary, and Buckman’s work makes legible a feminist struggle for liberation through the visual vocabulary of that which is most intimate and essential.

“Moon of my Life, My Sun and Stars”: A Self-Love Note to Moons and Junes

Not many people can say they have walked around New York City in lingerie while being photographed—but I am one of few who can say they have. The funny thing is that I did not expect to model for the Danish lingerie brand, Moons and Junes, but while supporting my friend behind the scenes at one of their photoshoots, Angete Bjerre-Madsen, founder of Moons and Junes, convinced me to give it a try.

Front view Audre Bra, Olive.

At first, I thought she was absolutely crazy. Then she handed me the Audre bra (fig. 1) (named after the one and only Audre Lorde) in a deep burnt orange, and I decided that the least I could do was try it on. It was light and sheer with a little peek-a-boo feature at the center of the bra for a playful cleavage reveal. At first, I was worried that the bra would not fit, or that it would not offer the support I needed—but I was immediately proven wrong. It fit like a glove while also providing great coverage. The Moons and Junes products run in three sizes: small, medium and large—yet fit a wide range of body sizes due to the stretchy and high-quality material of the products that mold to the wearer’s form without trying to change or enhance her body. Moons and Junes prides itself on being a lingerie brand that does not use underwire or hard cups. The brand’s goal is to disrupt the current lingerie industry by creating pieces that specifically cater to everybody without trying to modify it. There is no push-up, no padding, no unnecessary frill. The pieces act as a second skin meant to conform to the wearer, the models in the ad campaigns are familiar faces—they are family and friends of all ages, races, and sizes.

Shot from New York Moons and Junes Campaign by
photographer Nick Delieto.

“Lingerie” as a category of clothing given to undergarments, aims to make the body appear more alluring and attract attention from the viewer. The erotic or desire is closely tied to lingerie not only in its proximity to the naked body, but also in the theatricality of viewing the undergarments as well. The lingerie acts as the curtain covering the stage of the body, only making the flesh visible “in performance”. Roland Barthes writes in The Pleasure of the Text (1973) that the location of the erotic in clothing lies in its ability to evoke “intermittence,” or rather what he calls, “the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing…it is the flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.” Historically, the wearing and showing of one’s lingerie existed in a performance, a relation between the viewer and the wearer. However, a shift is occurring within the lingerie industry that focuses not the viewer’s reception and pleasure, but the solely the wearer’s.

Shot from New York Moons and Junes campaign by photographer Nick Delieto.

Moons and Junes, in a sense, redefines the relation of the erotic as dependent on the viewer’s response, and makes the erotic or the pleasurable more personal in the sense that the wearer’s pleasure comes from her comfort in the undergarments, her confidence in her skin, and also the beautiful and minimalist design of the pieces. Moons and Junes evokes desire, however a desire that is not meant for others, but rather one that is unabashedly for the self.

By Destinee Forbes

Undressed at The V&A

by Aric Reviere

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Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A Photo: Authors own

Last weekend, on my semi-regular sojourn to the V&A, I decided to attend the Fashion Department’s new exhibition “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.” To my surprise the exhibition garnered quite a bit of attention the morning of my visit, with the exhibition space itself full of visitors and lines of spectators inching slowly past the glass displays of historic underwear and garments.

My initial expectation of the exhibition imagined the display to be a spattering of various undergarments from different eras, but with a noticeable emphasis on the corset and hoop skirt. To be fair, these elements were featured prominently in the display, and even though most of the visitors flocked to these body contorting contraptions, the rest of the exhibition presented a delightful overview of innovations in underwear from an impressive range of eras. I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on the evolution of lingerie design toward the end of the exhibition, which traced developments in the industry from the 1920s to the 1930s. Compared to the hyperbolic manipulation of the body evident in the miniscule waists of the corsets on display, the body sculpting garments from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s seem tamed. Upon closer examination, however, the garments’ structures constrict the form and manipulate it into an ideal shape. From an academic perspective, the garments provide a perfect point from which to examine the power structures connected to standards of beauty. They enable the viewer to question what motivated a wearer (and still does) to physically transform their body via the adornment of garments that often use metal structures to manipulate the form? What gaze ultimately develops that definition of beauty and through networks disseminates and propagates an entire system of dress to elevate certain ideals? How do such beauty ideals limit the wearer’s agency within various social contexts, but also enhance his/her agency within others?

The second half of the exhibition attempted to blur the demarcation between under garments, lingerie, etc., and outerwear through the presentation a numerous outfits from the V&A’s permanent collection. Personally, I found this section disconnected from the first half of the exhibition with certain ensembles on display not particularly resonating with the exhibition’s theme. With that said, I must admit that the Ulyana Sergeenko couture pieces were to die for and on my list of most coveted items.

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Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A Photo: Authors own

 

Ulaan Sergeenko Couture, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A. Photo: Authors own

Ulyana Sergeenko Couture, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, V&A. Photo: Authors own