Fashion is a form of art. It’s an expression of one’s self – the clothes we choose to wear can tell stories about who we are, a representation of our emotions and our memories. They are so much more than pieces of fabric. This was the inspiration behind second-year master of arts in fashion student Filomena Natale Gasparro’s thesis project, Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story.
Curated by Gasparro herself, the exhibit explores the idea of fashion as an art form to narrate our personal stories and memories “I love the fact that clothing, of all objects, is something that fits right next to us. They’re an extension of us as human beings. They relate the story. They move with us. They carry their own stories for us. So I love that relationship of the storytelling, the human aspect of fashion,” says Gasparro, who also has a bachelor of fine arts and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from York University.
Gasparro gave 14 women from various backgrounds a blank canvas dress and asked them to illustrate a personal memory using the garment. There were no limits to what the women could do – one woman drew on her dress with markers, another chose to cover hers in embroidered leaves. The stories of the women varied as well, among the life moments depicted were motherhood, death and acceptance. Gasparro chose to showcase women’s stories because she says she can relate to women easier than men and she is able to learn a lot from other women just through listening and understanding them.
“She’s doing social science research in that she’s connecting with women and talking about experiences, but she’s also connecting it to discourses about fashion and the body. There’s a creative outcome to her project and there’s also a research component,” says Kim Wahl, an associate professor at the School of Fashion, who created a garment for Gasparro’s exhibition. “I thought it was a very interesting proposition to have [to] try to connect through some personal life narrative using the idea of clothing.”
Wahl chose to explore the relationship she had with her own body and her struggle with infertility. Wahl and her husband have been through various medical interventions and in vitro fertilization treatments in the past seven years.
In 2009, Wahl became pregnant but miscarried after 22 weeks. She decided to depict the reoccurring pattern of grief and wondering what had went wrong that she and her husband experienced during the seven years of treatments. “I think a lot of women, more women than you may know, have been through this experience or they’ve had miscarriages or losses and people don’t really talk about it very much,” says Wahl.
It has been a year and a half since she has done treatment and she says she is coming to terms that she will not be having children.“I do believe in the idea that art can be a restorative or a regenerative and I think doing this project was a way for me to intellectualize that experience that I had and talk about it as a narrative, which I hadn’t really thought about before.”
Although her garment may have dealt with the topic of loss, for Wahl the process of creating was also about rediscovery. “I didn’t paint for 15 years. I was just so busy trying to finish my PhD and then trying to find a job . . . I really let my art practice fall on the wayside.” Participating in this project allowed her to reconnect with her passions and reminded her how much she enjoyed painting and photography. “It become less about the experience that I went through and it became more about reconnecting with the interest that I have in making things.”
For Isabel Fernandez, a second-year master of arts in fashion student, her garment was not just about telling her story either, it was about creating a political statement as well. “It’s my narrative about my life story, but I’m also trying to make a statement, a political one and because politics has been in my life for so long, I can’t just shut my eyes and ignore what’s going on in my country when I see so many people die.”
Fernandez was born in Venezuela and has spent a good part of her life moving around, which was represented by the world map featured on her garment. She also chose to include a cap, which is more than an article of clothing, but a symbolic item Venezuelan’s wear during street protests against their government. The cap featured in the exhibit is something Fernandez has worn to protests she attends in Canada as well. “I think fashion is an art form and some people just look at it as something very superficial, so I wanted to prove that fashion is more powerful than that and that it can be very political and a lot deeper than just something superficial.”
Fernandez moved to Canada a year and a half ago to pursue her degree at Ryerson. “I decided to come to Canada and try to find a life outside of Venezuela . . . and I found peace in my life. I have a boyfriend. I have plans for the future with him. I found so many things that were missing because I’ve had to move around so much.”
The exhibit, which for Gasparro has been two years in the making, has been on display at Design Exchange in Toronto since Feb. 10. Gasparro says the response she has received from those who visit the exhibit has been lovely. “It makes them think about their lives after they see the show, even if they don’t want to express it through fashion,” says Gasparro. “It’s what I wanted. I wanted people to have thoughtfulness about their own lives and empathy towards others. That stuff for me makes that show successful.”
Fashioning Life: Wear Your Story is on display until March 6. Check out www.dx.org for more details.
Photos: Jessica DeFreitas