Intellectual Fashion Show 2016

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So I’ve decided to have another go at this writing thing. Random right?

Auckland Art Week 2016 began for me with a 2016 response to an exhibition hosted by NZ artist June Black in 1959.  June’s exhibition, also entitled “Intellectual Fashion Show” featured paintings, sculptures and commentary which explored the concept of fashion as a form of armour used to protect oneself from challenges faced in everyday life. The exhibition is hosted by the NZ Fashion Museum, in the Gus Fisher Gallery and will be open till 5 November.

Gus Fisher Gallery - Intellectual Fashion Show 2016

Fashion as a form of self-expression is not an unfamiliar concept. I think most people would understand that, asides from its purely perfunctory use, it’s also an outward expression of gender, status in society, our personality, or perhaps our mood for that day.

But viewing fashion as a form of emotional armour was a new concept for me. The premise that fashion can also act as armour to protect oneself, from the mundane everyday challenges we face in life, through to more profound challenges such as the burden of a broken heart, or the fear of having to navigate delicate social norms.

If we consider fashion as an outward manifestation of who we are or how we see ourselves, then perhaps it’s not such a stretch to think it could also serve to project an image of who we want to be, and how we want others to perceive us. It can be a powerful signifier of class, of wealth, of prestige – I mean, what other functions could a golden gem-encrusted crown, or epaulettes on a military uniform possibly serve?

The exhibition curators – Janie van WoerdenSheridan Keith and Doris de Pont – brought together 60 different creative practitioners who work in a diverse range of disciplines to create “responses” to this concept. They were invited to create their own “costumes”, and given free rein as to the medium they chose. It was also up to the artist as to which intellectual or emotional situation their costumes were intended to protect against.

Some took a more liberal interpretation of the “brief” and exhibited a costume whose identity was partly forged by actors who wore them in a TV series (which I think, while interesting, appears to miss the concept):



The following is costume for those who “embrace everything with a private ecstasy” by Nina van Lier. The costume is for a notional “city girl”, who experiences the world in euphoric ecstasy but only chooses to express it on the inside (with scant regard for those on the outside looking in, symbolised by the thick layers of black paint on the outside of the denim jacket).


This sense of richness and self-content is very well described in a short poem the artist jotted inside the attached exhibit note.



The following was devised as a costume to “bind one to a sustained style” by Zambesi. The accompanying notes were a series of apparently incongruous words joined by hyphens (perhaps denoting the intellectual links between the words, as well as the physical links of the costume at hand). My interpretation was that this costume was an outward manifestation of the challenge of maintaining a consistent aesthetic, despite the challenges of trends, the different properties of materials used in the production of clothing working against each other, in a way which still allows for self-expression. After all – the brand and its aesthetic might resonate with you, but you still want to wear the clothing, rather than allow the clothing to wear you.

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I took some snaps of a few others I thought were either intellectually thought-provoking, or visually stimulating.


The opening night was absolutely packed, so I went back the following day to meander through the exhibits at my own pace. In the quiet of my own thoughts and in flipping through the exhibition notes cleverly written on folder pieces of card attached to each of the costumes, it made me reconsider what clothing means to me, and what other purposes it can serve (the more mundane functional aspects aside).

As a minority growing up as an exceptionally awkward Asian kid in what I now realise was an overwhelmingly Anglo-centric community (Christchurch), I still recall comments made about my appearance by my schoolmates. I’d be at school, absorbed by the immediate task at hand (whether it be completing the creative writing task at hand, or leaping between the monkey bars), when someone would make an off-the-cuff comment about how I appeared or acted different. These weren’t said out of malice, but the impact of those words were not less visceral – immediately my mind would snap away from what it had been concentrating on, and fixate on my “other”-ness, the fact that I was different compared to everyone else. At an age when all anyone ever wants to do is to fit in.


As most teenagers do, I started developing an interest in clothing -particularly how affects how I look. But I think my interest in clothing and fashion was guided by the fact that it forms a huge part of how I am perceived, or how I wish to be perceived by others. To put it another way, I can’t change the physical features which belie my ethnicity but I could change how well presented and well-dressed I was, in order to influence how others perceived me. To “re-balance” or correct any negative bias that others might have towards me before they’d gotten to know me.


It’s all very well to say that others’ perceptions shouldn’t matter. But I don’t think that anyone who says that without qualifying it has ever been in a situation where they were ignored, or written off by another person, for something which is entirely outside of their control.

If I had a “costume”, it wouldn’t immediately come across as one in the sense that it isn’t exaggerated or dramatic. I would describe my costume as a well-fitted and well-coordinated without drawing undue attention to myself. It’s more about what I’m not, rather than what I am. I’d like to think that this can and will change over time. But after a lifetime of being different, it can be nice to be able to blend sometimes.


Author: Chris Park

One half of the Park Brothers. Purveyor of banter, curator of misc. Manage comms for @BuoyandMine. Read More

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