Deciphering Clothes

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Deciphering clothes: The trouble maker’s wardrobe

 Difference should be difficult. It should not simply be admitted and sidelined, nor should the aim be for it to disappear in some fantasy of an expanded and more inclusive normal.

-       David J. Getsy

The twelve emerging Asian artists exhibited here invite guests to view their wardrobes. The observer might find themselves feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, or report an unpleasant experience, since some pieces are distorted, overly exaggerated or reveal (private) body parts in an unusual way, by juxtaposing daily garments (clothes) or objects (accessories) commonly found in a wardrobe. But then we need to ask: What makes us feel uncomfortable when we encounter the work shown here?  Why do we feel strange? Is it because the works deviate from our expectations of how ordinary people dress? Who are these ordinary people and what do they wear in their daily lives? Who is considered not so ordinary, and what do they wear? Are they trouble makers or strangers? If so, why?

People who do not conform to gender stereotypes are characterised as ‘trouble makers’, or ‘queer’.  The term queer has been used to refer to sexual orientation and gender minorities identified as neither heterosexual or cisgender. The original definition of queer was ‘strange’ or ‘peculiar’, ‘trouble’, but has increasingly been adopted to describe non-normative identities. These words often suggest negative associations such as problems, or the presence of a disorder, or difficulty. They are also used when socially accepted/agreed rules or norms are contravened. This leads us to question what socially accepted norms or social customs are? Is it possible to define them? If so, are there tangible guidelines to differentiate socially acceptable behavior from that which is not?

The twelve contributors to Deciphering clothes: the trouble maker’s wardrobe have chosen to focus on groups of people considered trouble makers by society, due to their willingness to declare themselves as queer artists, questioning gender categories and their place on the spectrum from feminine to masculine.

Artistic practice acknowledges that dressing can serve as camouflage, such that biological men dressing in women’s clothes or vice versa highlights those characteristics of women or men that have been formulated and naturalised by society. The artists here question femininity and masculinity by mimicking it in an exaggerated or preposterous way, as by depicting oneself as of having an uncategorised gender that deviates from gender norms, reveals the illusion of the gender binary suggesting its power and normatively is a fiction.  Therefore, with this in mind: Would you still consider these individuals as trouble makers? Or is it rather that we take gender dualism too much for granted thereby stereotyping gender characteristics?