“Click, click, click, click. Beautiful!” said the young woman instructing me on selfie stick use towards the end of my walk through the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)’s A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes. The video, entitled Selfie Stick Aerobics (constructed by Arvida Byström and Maja Malou Lyse) was of two young women in pink tracksuits, posing with a selfie stick as feminine items, such as menstrual cups, belly button rings, and thongs, floated past. As they showed me different photo angles, they continued to enforce body positivity, insisting that this was not a competition. Instead of mocking selfies, which are often viewed as vain and superficial, the artists embraced them enthusiastically, as a way to affirm how beautiful they and the people around them were. The artists found an interesting way to reclaim culture frequently made fun of, all while promoting self-love.
MoPOP strives to use creative expression as a force for change by featuring exhibits that both educate the public on the history behind some of our favorite culture points, often giving new artists a platform. At this particular exhibit, a group of fashion designers diverse in popularity and establishment came together to discuss the meaning of femininity and the label’s borders. The presentation was split up into different feminine archetypes: “Mother Earth,” “Sage,” “Magician,” “Enchantress,” “Explorer,” “Heroine,” and “Thespian Queen,” each accompanied by a paragraph on the wall and archetypal symbols. Instead of a traditional mannequin presentation, there was a mixture of videography, photography, and clothing.
Among the fascinating displays were pieces from an Alexander McQueen collection: Natural Dis-Tinction, Un-Natural Selection. His work was an interesting juxtaposition between natural-seeming fabrics and patterns and more modern silhouettes. For example, one outfit was composed of a dress made of light, cream silk patterned with meadow flowers under a simple leather bodice; however, the shoulders were broadened, the upper sleeves were voluminous, and the hips were exaggerated to the extreme. The purpose of this was to find a balance between modern and natural, providing familiarity with a sense of wildness underneath, which was an enthralling contrast. Another dress, similar in shape, had rough rainbow fabric that the light danced upon and, yet, a severe collar and neckline. It was interesting how the two ideas of natural and unnatural blended well together instead of clashing
I found Redressing the Crown by Joanne Pief enrapturing as well. The pictures showed busts of a naked woman with her hair braided and twisted into intricate shapes and designs. In this series, Pief styled the black model’s hair in untraditional ways, combating the pressure for hair texture to be the same across races. In her photos, she sculpted hair into intricate crowns and structures that reminded me of zodiac figures in an effort to combat the way we say braids should be worn. The bare woman shows us that the focus of this work is the hair, not the body.
Moving away from the more traditional ideas of fashion, another dress attempted a much more intimidating task. The outfit was an oversized NBA jersey adorned with ruffles, ribbons, and other more feminine artifacts. It looked like a dress, instead of simply an oversized jersey, which I found fascinating. The idea behind the piece was to feminize something overtly masculine—instead of simply putting a female body in male clothes, the designer chose to subvert the clothing itself. It was impressive how the dress looked put together and fully realized, and yet still maintained its identity as a jersey.
“A Queen Within” brought together several different ways of looking at the female self, encouraging not only a revisioning of what the word “feminine” means, but also the way we view femininity. The unique blend of dresses, videos, mannequins, and noise present helped to broaden my view of the word: by portraying a vast swath of diverse examples of femininity, the exhibit developed an open and positive view of sexuality, body, and self.
Lead photo credit: Ashish, Ensemble S/S 2017. Courtesy of Barrett Barrera Projects & RKL Consulting. Photo Cleo Glover.
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