Forms and Alterations: A Powerful New Art Exhibition

By Eliza Shaw

On Friday, February 2, the exhibition Forms and Alterations opened at 808 Gallery. The exhibition portrayed how individuals express themselves through clothing, and provided insight and inclusiveness in today’s politically-charged environment.

Mannequins draped with diverse and unconventional apparel, walls replete with pictures and fabrics, all of which appear in compelling and bold colors greeted viewers as they entered the exhibition. Myriad shades and textures intrigue not only adults interested in high art, but also children seeking entertainment. The exhibition attempts to demonstrate how diversity in fashion promotes expression and confidence.

Many who attended the event and those who displayed their work expressed hopelessness and discouragement in light of the current status of LGBTQ rights in Trump’s America.

“…There is this idea of fashion as a means of self-expression and representing an inner reality or aspirations,” BU Professor Marie Satya McDonough, whose work with American literature focuses on the interplay between gender and politics, said. “It is extremely important to think about fashion when we consider how sex and gender interact.”

Stacy Scibelli, a Westchester Community College professor and artist with work displayed in the show, made her clothes for a full month with no repetition. She said that the exhibition intrigued her because “clothing is integral to our expressing ourselves. It really can get confusing and convoluted in terms of operating in a binary gender system.”

When asked about the ever-present battle for transgender and queer rights in the Trump era, McDonough recognized that “for many people, it bears noticing that gender has been a means of pressing and controlling others.” She continued, “as an example, think of uncomfortable or constricting clothes or footwear, like heels for women. It is useful to remember this because many people believe clothing is always liberating and comfortable, but apparel can equally be imprisoning and restraining.

Scibelli similarly noted that she believes, “clothing can force people to feel they must dress a certain way to fit in. So I guess fashion could be a disservice but it’s all about how you look at it.”

The artists unanimously believed that social media exerts tremendous influence on those who express their sexuality through clothing. While some thought the media decrease self-expression, others disputed, saying sources such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook encourage individualism and communication.

On the topic of social media’s positive influence, Katherine Hubbard, a featured artist and professor of conceptual fashion and sculpture, concurred.

“I think the media does a good job portraying what have been considered standard though deeply problematic norms with regard to gender,” Hubbard said. “We’re in an evolutionary moment regarding how gender is defined in the public sphere, far different than how it was framed in the past.”

Conversely, Scibelli asserted that “What’s beautiful about social media and the way people are connecting is they don’t have to worry about fitting in anymore. They can find their own ‘tribes’ and clothing is a huge part of how we interact with like-minded people we want to associate with.”

The question arises as to how this exhibition advances the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

“there is an openness with how people express their sexuality now, a stark contrast with how it was when I was a teenager.” McDonough said. “a lot of people, however, especially those living outside of big cities, still feel they can’t express their sexuality and not every family is as accepting as the media would like us to believe.”

The artists featured in Forms and Alterations make an effort to frame the status quo and encourage self-expression and acceptance. As Hubbard aptly noted, “I don’t find that people who live in gender normative constructs, myself included, seek to define anything but they strive to live in their bodies in different ways.”

“The exhibit helps people who may be afraid to talk about the issues to open up,” Scibelli said. “and it allows them to deal with trauma and discover new parts of themselves.”

A.K. Burns, a New York visual artist whose creations address trans feminist issues, a liberation and awareness movement by trans women, coined an interesting term. She said, “everything draws on my ‘queerdiscopic’ view of how the world is falling apart.” While this may seem to be a pessimistic viewpoint, it is crucial that the norms of yesterday be twisted and reconstructed in order to instill hope and create change in what many view as bleak times for gender expression and artistic endeavors.

Burns and all the participating artists certainly do “challenge fashion’s commodification of the body and mainstream conventions of dress,” as the gallery’s website appropriately states. Forms and Alterations will be free and open to the public through March 25, 2018.

Want to keep up with HCBU? Make sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, check out our Pinterest board, and read our latest Tweets!