Leila Jinnah (New York, NY)

The building of an identity is fundamentally internal, but in order to express this it becomes a practice of external presentation. A person’s relationship to how they present themselves is a visual cultivation of both an intra and interpersonal dialogue. The self- perception made evident in choice of presentation, along with external social expectation or values compiles a visual identity of an individual. The concealing and revealing oneself, both physically and mentally, cannot be separated. This is part of the human experience. It is complex relationship that is expressed differently from person to person. To embrace oneself is a difficult task as humans are not simple creatures. Understanding of the multidimensional self can only begin to be explored once one acknowledges that full comprehension may never occur without contradiction or tension. How one uses the medium of dress is a visual representation of this self-understanding presented through aesthetic choice, conscious or unconscious. This is the dialogue that so inspires me.

Marcel Duchamp posed for Manray as Rrose Selavy, his drag identity. In one image, he conceals his masculine bone structure, embodying the “feminine” image. In the next, he is still dressed as Rrose, only he does not conceal his strong jaw, and bulging chin, blurring the boundaries of masculine and feminine, revealing and concealing his physical self. These images showed me that one could completely reveal their gender while simultaneously questioning its validity as a sole identity.

To represent this dialogue of the intimacy in constructing self-identity, I started taking intimate objects and moving them to the surface. This enables them to stand as garments on their own. In doing this research, the thong jumped out as an object that embodies this idea of concealing and revealing in a physical way. It was was worn to conceal a stripper’s genitals out of respect for guests in the 1930s, and became a highly sexualized object as it was consumed by western culture. It covers and suggests. I used this shape, and removed it from its familiar context, draping it to have the same function in relation to the entire body. The shape lends itself to covering and exposing.

To take this idea of bringing physical vulnerabilities to the exterior even further, the body it self needed to be emphasized. I painted both male and female bodies to create an imprint of the body on the fabric, translating a gendered body to a neutral canvas-like surface.

By creating these layers of body, body representation, and thong shaped garments, the wearer is allowed to choose the way they represent themselves. The wearer can interact with the clothing choosing to be male or female, naked or covered, but always carries the same mood and aesthetic. Embracing the beauty of the body, yet not forcing it to become a specific identity is the overall function of this collection. The building of these layers is where identity is formed, yet constantly subject to change. This is how I act out.