REVIEW: GLOSS: Modeling Beauty

Gloss: Modeling Beauty was a pleasant surprise. All I knew about this exhibit was that it “explores the shifting ideals of female beauty that pervade European and American visual culture from the 1920s to today,” which was the UMMA’s online description. I expected magazine covers of willowy, white women in the highest fashion from the early 1900’s and today’s fashion magazines with sleek, androgynous women. Maybe it was just me, but I found the theme of the exhibit to be different from what the online description conveyed. Rather than depicting shifting trends in actual beauty standards, I felt like the exhibition portrayed the photographer’s stance and mentality towards fashion and beauty in their time period.

For example, one of the first images shows a black women posing for an advertisement in typical Harlem 1920’s attire. The photographer, James Van Der Zee, tries to offer an alternative to the mainstream white models of the time. Another photographer had several images of women in more experimental, sexual clothing, but it was the 1970’s during the sexual revolution… so it’s not too out of place. The gesture of empowering women was appreciated. To be honest though, some of them I just didn’t “get”. According to the plaque, Paolozzi’s pop art photos were supposed to “engender comical and ambiguous analogies”. Yeah, I found them very ambiguous.

The work that stood out the most for me was a set of six photos from a clothing catalog for the store Bloomingdale’s. The set of photos are honestly kind of creepy more than anything else. Each photo has several women in the shot, but it looks like they are all doing their own thing and just happen to be in the same space. There is little interaction between them and their expressions are oddly intense. One woman sits on a couch and stares directly into the camera completely straight faced, which I actually found a little unnerving. Maybe that was the point…? I’m not sure. Each image also has a high contrast between light and shadow which heightened the bizarreness for me.

One thing did disappoint me a little. The exhibition was quite small– taking my time and reading every single plaque, I went through the two walls of photos in about twenty minutes. Overall, I appreciated the few pictures with women of color. I wish there had been more diversity but the absence makes sense since the exhibition is a reflection on whom society deems worthy of representing beauty.

Would recommend if: you have spare time between classes, you understand photography more than me, you want some insight into how photographers use media as a tool for communication.

PREVIEW: GLOSS: Modeling Beauty

Interested in fashion and photography? How about beauty and culture? If so, come peruse the photography gallery in the UMMA, right on central campus— for free.

GLOSS: Modeling Beauty examines how beauty ideals have changed in America and in Europe since the 1920’s. The exhibition features glossy images of female models from fashion magazines. Hanging along side these works are images from documentary photographers who depict the fashion of everyday life. Lastly, artists like Nikki S. Lee contribute photographs presenting alternative notions to mainstream beauty and fashion. Come see how beauty standards for women have evolved and, of course, for some fashion *inspiration*. After all, it’s only open until January 7th, 2018.

Time: Everyday (except Mondays). Where: UMMA. What: Awesome visuals by awesome photographers (~Andy Warhol~).

(Image: UMMA website. https://umma.umich.edu/)

Review- Maddman: The Steve Madden Story

I arrived early to the Michigan theater- nearly a full two hours before the event began- expecting the interest generated by this one of a kind experience to be more than overwhelming.  It was the premier of the Steve Madden documentary, “Maddman: the Steve Madden Story” by Ben Patterson featuring a live Q&A from the man himself after the movie was over.  Thankfully my friend and I got a spot near the front of the line, but as the line slowly grew and the drizzly rainy day chilled even further you could feel the sense of excitement mounting in the hubbub of the crowd outside.  I had been a long-time wearer of Madden’s shoes, coincidentally having thrown on a pair that very morning without realizing the connection.  Knowing next to nothing about the company or the man behind the company I was very excited to learn exactly how that well-loved pair of black “troopa” boots on my feet came into being.

Finally, it was time to file into the theater, walking by a mini photo op area where individuals dressed far better than I were taking photos, already making the event seem like the fashionable and flashy movie premier that I had expected it to be.  Generously, all attendees of the event receive free concessions (I picked some popcorn and a delicious mocha dark chocolate bar) along with a free goodie bag that featured a mug, a t shirt, stickers and much more.  For a free event this was far more than I expected and a more than welcome first impression. The screening room had a capacity of 200, and by the time the event was ready to begin nearly every seat was full.  A staff member told us to “pretend we were at sea world” and squeeze in so that no seat would be wasted

Finally the lights dimmed and the documentary began with snappy shots of the feet of New Yorkers as they bustled around the city.  The documentary itself was nothing short of fantastic. I thought the director did an extremely good job of capturing both elements of Steve’s life and career, and also the frenzied kinetic energy of the office.  Steve’s story  progressed naturally, one event flowing to another while weaving the overarching story of a dedicated and passionate man becoming the textbook example of “rags to richtes” through hard work and creativity.  They discussed sensitive topics, like Steve’s time in prison due to being caught up in the money laundering scheme made famous by “Wolf of Wall Street,” with special care,  while also maintaining focus on Steve’s dedication for his company and forward momentum.  I remember laughing out loud at more than one occasion and grinning from ear to ear by the time the movie was over.

Last but not least, it was time for the Q&A. Even from sitting near the back of the room, you could get a feel for Steve Madden’s natural charisma and force of personality.  He managed to exude an air of confidence without seeming haughty or arrogant, and seemed to earnestly answer all of the questions presented to him, even the less than comfortable ones about his time in prison.  I particularly liked that when asked why he chose Ann Arbor to premier the movie about his life story, he brought up that many people he know and a large number of people who work from his company were Umich alums themselves, and that the school had a special place in his company.  While the event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I highly recommend the documentary to anyone interested in business, fashion or just an inspiring story of hard work and dedication.

 

Preview: Maddman: The Steve Madden Story

For any fans of fashion, business, documentaries or any combination of the three, this coming Wednesday go to the premier of  “Maddman: The Steve Madden Story” at the Michigan Theater and attend a live Q&A with Steve Madden himself.  The Madden Company, whose products can be seen adorning the feet and bodies of many students walking around campus has had a tumultuous and interesting history, and this documentary will track their history along with Steve Madden’s own rags-to-riches story.

The event will take place at the Michigan Theater, October 11th.  The doors will open at 7:15 and the screening itself will begin at 8:00.  I anticipate a fair amount of interest in this event so if you want good seats make sure to get there early! The event will be free to the public with limited free concessions. 

REVIEW: Bronze Elegance Fashion Show

I’ve never been the most on top of the fashion world.  When I flipped through the pages of Vogue as a kid I could never put my finger on what made certain outfits so visually appealing. That being said, I was extremely excited to attend the Bronze Elegance annual fashion charity show this year, and see the diverse and choreographed fashion production I had heard about.

One of the things that that became instantly apparent as I walked in the door was how stylish the general crowd attending this show was. Almost all of the attendees were dressed to the nines, with several of the women standing in line with me looking like they could have just stepped off the runway themselves.  After I had a wrist band tied around my wrist, I headed to find a seat to the side of the stage, and waited for the show to begin.  They had  mounted a large screen over the stage, so that everyone could get multiple different angles and views of the models no matter where they happened to be seating.

As soon as the first model walked out onto stage, we were immediately treated to something far closer to a choreographed dance than a runway walk, where each model interacted with the other models walking behind them in some way.  This same alternative and performance-oriented direction  was carried out throughout the show, with each collection having a different type of “choreography,” or element that made it special and stand apart.  My only complaint with the first collection was that the outfits were not cohesive, however later collections were much more cohesive, and fit together perfectly.

Another interesting element of the fashion show was the space in which it was held itself.   When decorated and separated by a large black curtain, the inside of the gym was transformed into an almost entirely new space.  One of my favorite aspects of the venue is that there were large windows on either side of the gymnasium, and as the fashion show progressed we could see the light outside gradually fading into pitch black as the sun set, adding to the ambiance of the show.  Additionally, I liked how the lighting changed throughout, colors picked carefully to complement the  designs on stage.  Perhaps my favorite element of the environment were the fog machines, which were used off and on throughout the show.  During one particularly foggy section it seemed as if the models completely emerged from an entered into a foggy portal at the back of the stage, really adding to the feel of the show!  Later on, as one of the final and most dramatic runway walks, all the lights were shut off as black lights were turned on to reveal glow in the dark body paint over all of the models!

My favorite collection presentation of the entire night came at the end of the first half, where six dancers came out onto either side of the runway, and proceed to do an expertly choreographed dance routine as the models walked through the middle.  After this astonishing performance intermission started, giving me time to mingle and prepare myself for the second half.

The second half of the show also featured two different musical artists performing in between the individual collections. While I failed to catch the name of the first performer, the second performer was a budding musician and former vine star Wolf Tyga.  These music interludes were a fun way to further break up the shows and diversify what was being presented. In general I really enjoyed the music picked for the background of each collection in the show, and thought that the music was picked well to fit with the theme of each collection and further emphasize them.

Every time I thought that the last collection would be the flashiest and most impressive, they managed to change things up and keep me more and more intrigued.  Now I truly understand why their tagline was “A show with fashion” instead of just a “fashion show.”

To follow bronze elegance and get information about their future projects and next year’s show you can check out their official website or their instagram,

REVIEW: Athi-Patra Ruga- Penny Stamps Speaker Series.

img_3197Tonight’s choice of organ music was none other than “Over the Rainbow,” from the Wizard of Oz, a fitting tune considering featured guest Athi-Patra Ruga recently put on a show of the same name. Ruga framed his lecture by talking about self-made superheroes, these characters or rather, avatars, that he has both created and embodied to deal with past traumas. These figures have become the central focus of all his varied artistic ventures throughout the years.

performance1One of the very first avatars he created was “Miss Congo,” who he describes as a “club kid.” At this time he took up tapestry work, saying that he would prefer to define his own fate, and his own story, rather than let others do so for him. In particular he wanted to explore the way that black women have been portrayed at art.

The next character he explored was “Injibhabha,” which translates from his native language of Xhosa into alopecia, or hair-loss, in English. This character was created directly in response to a specific incident that occurred in his life.  Ruga had been in Switzerland when he saw a poster featuring cartoon white sheep kicking a cartoon black sheep out of the country, with the message promoting “cleaning up” the country by forcing immigrants out of the country.  He had built up in his mind Switzerland as a kind of utopian space, but in this moment it all came crashing down.  He did a piece of performance art in which he dressed up as this avatar by sewing together an outfit of “costume afros,” and entering a pen of white sheep.  He continued to experiment with this avatar for a while, and some of the photos he took at this time of Injibhabha are placed below.

The Death of Beiruth
The Death of Beiruth

The next character he began exploring was “Beiruth,” which was made in response to a news story covering a South African woman that had been attacked by a man in a taxi for simply wearing a miniskirt.  Beiruth was meant to be hyper sexualized, and create an immediate reaction in those that come across her.  However, eventually the weight of these issues began to wear on him, and so he “killed off” both of these characters with a dramatic photo of Beiruth standing in front of the crashing waves.

screen-shot-2012-11-28-at-1-13-59-pmHis next major avatar was “Ilullwane,” which refers to a bat, or in the context of his culture, a boy who goes to circumcision school as a rite of passage. Many young boys would die because of infection and ill treatment during this process, and those who leave the program would have to face heavy social stigma.  He wanted to create a “superhero” that would provide inspiration for these young boys. This idea led to several other interesting works.  One of which being, “The Body in Question.”  He showed the video below during the presentation.

With this series he hoped to raise awareness about transgender rights. One of his more elaborate works with the avatar of Ilullwane involved a performance act in an Olympic-sized swimming pool and 12 synchronized swimmers.  The photo gallery below shows just some of the images from that performance.

night-of-the-long-knives-i1The most recent of his series is “The Future White Women of Azania.”  Azania is a word used to reference the East African coast line since at least 14 AD among the Greeks.  The major motif of this series is Ruga’s body entirely covered in balloons, and by popping these balloons he is “shedding his identity.” This project is ongoing, and he continues to find new ways to explore this series, already producing everything from sculpture to photography to textiles.installation-view4

 

The presentation ended with the premier of Ruga’s new video, “Queens In Exile,” which marks the start of yet another character. The video started out with Ruga dressed as a queen, with extravagant jewels and costuming.  The video took us through several distinctive sections before ending with the shot you see below.  You can see a clip of the video, and hopefully eventually the full video on Ruga’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/AthiPatraRuga/

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I also got a chance to attend the Q&A session immediately following the presentation.  Nearly every lecture has a Q&A session, and I’ve always found them to be tremendously enriching. This time Ruga discussed in further depth his thoughts on the recent US election, the current trend towards conservatism globally, his process for getting into character, and the influence the internet has had on his life and work.

The Stamps Speaker Series is held every Thursday at 5:10 PM at the Michigan Theater.  There are only two more presentations this semester, but the series will pick right back up next semester.