Wearing her ‘art’ on her sleeve

Take in a marriage of fashion and art at a six-woman exhibition.

Hippie (photo credit: BATYA GAZIT)
(photo credit: BATYA GAZIT)
Fashion and art go hand-in-hand in shaping our identities.
Much like the dress we pull from our wardrobe or the sandals we slip on on the way out the door, the artwork an artist creates is ultimately an “identity card.” These identity cards are not only personal, they are collective; every piece of clothing we choose to wear becomes a statement about culture, religion, femininity, belonging, society and status.
Isolating the connections between art and fashion, and bringing them forward to the public sphere, forms the foundations of “Art in Fashion.” The new exhibition at Tel Aviv’s Ben Ami Gallery features six female artists who address fashion in their own unique ways. The artists were carefully handpicked by a selection panel that included producer Michal Sadan, curator Johanan Herson and gallery owner Hagit Ben Ami.
“Art is becoming fashionable. In saying that ‘art is in fashion’, the title suggests that the art is a fashion trend in itself,” explains Ben Ami.
She had a vision to “delve deep and find the connective tissue between art and fashion. The fashion world is always influenced by art – whether consciously or unconsciously in a photo, film, theater performance” or, in 23-year-old Abigail Ohana’s case, nature.
Ohana, the exhibit’s youngest contributor, will present two oil paintings that combine fabric, feathers, stones and other objects alongside a selection of painted shirts – all of which are inspired by hummingbirds.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a special connection to birds,” Ohana says, explaining that she finds elements of herself in every hummingbird she paints.
“They represent a freedom that I strive for daily as a young woman – to go wherever I want whenever I want – and as an artist in my freedom to create,” she states.
Ohana loves the play between gentleness and independence that hummingbirds embody, which she feels is mirrored in every woman in the exhibition and beyond. Her “botanical art” offerings are extremely pertinent to one of the main objectives of Art in Fashion: freedom of imagination.
“The exhibition is about the freedom that we give our imagination,” Ben Ami explains. “I think that this is one of the biggest connections between art and fashion. Through creation, we let our imagination take over and carry us to other places outside the ‘everyday.’” Rather than traveling to new physical places, 46-year-old mixed-media artist Paziz Machlev lets her imagination transport her to emotional, ephemeral places – for example, memories – to find freedom and solace. She achieves this difficult task with the help of an iconic symbol common to both fashion and femininity: the dress.
Machlev’s A Set of Dresses contains six different “dresses” sculpted from a single piece of paper and glued to multi-textured canvases 1.65 meters in length. She believes that a woman’s life is a journey whereby she is always adding memories and life events to the baggage she carries with her as she travels.
She chose paper as her medium instead of fabric because she finds it mimics the fleeting qualities of a memory – once a memory disappears into the back of your mind, you choose whether you wish to retrieve it or leave it behind. Her exhibit reminds the viewer that as women, all of our memories are stitched into the dresses we own.
“When you’re younger, you have your dress from your first birthday party. Then comes your bat mitzva dress, your prom dress, your graduation dress, your wedding dress, that one black funeral dress.... every time you see a dress, it’s another memory,” she explains.
While some of her pieces depict positive life events – like the “dress” made out of cardboard color palettes designed to represent her fond memories as an artist – the pink dress that originally inspired A Set of Dresses does not invoke nostalgia, but rather memories of shame and trauma.
“When I was only nine years old, my parents went through a messy divorce after my father became super religious,” she relates. “He moved to a yeshiva and the court ordered me to visit him once a week. He’d make me put on this ugly pink dress. It was tiny, too tight and smelled awful.”
As she told the story, her disposition hardened.
Through the creation of her six full-scale paper dresses, Machlev was able to address these traumatic memories and carry them to a more positive place.
“This is art for me,” she says, “and also a form of catharsis – for myself and all women who come to see my work. I want my pieces to inspire all women to go with their dreams, to take their memories, no matter how painful, and grow from them. This is how you achieve true freedom.”
Female empowerment is nothing new to the Ben Ami Gallery. Last Purim, it housed an exhibition dedicated to the expression “She drank until she lost it,” which encouraged women to be free and go a little crazy.
The space also serves as a “social” gallery, addressing various issues about society and actually injecting these messages into society by hanging artwork on the walls of the adjoining café. The connecting gallery spaces help connect people to art, and people to people. They bridge the gaps between different cultures to widen the way we interpret the world.
In her contribution to “Art in Fashion,” retired judge Daniella Wexler draws the viewer’s attention to how interpreting and reinterpreting the world is something that never grows old. In adding fashionable ornaments to her drab, black judicial robes, the redesigned garments are removed from their original context.
Wexler’s intriguing pieces mix the professional with the fashionable to suggest that “clothing defines us.”
Ben Ami explains: “It gives hints to our social background, status, abilities, personality traits and what kind of woman we are. One of the definitions of art is the way we take things and plant them out of their normal context. Daniella is doing exactly this – taking what already exists and making something else to give the original objects new meaning.”
Noy Shapira does something similar with her bags made from pieces of leather holsters. She is one of three young designers recently added to the exhibition, with the goal of including a fresh perspective on art and fashion from the design side of things. Another Shenkar College of Engineering and Design graduate is Mey Izhar, who made the art-fashion connection through theater – she designed a lampshade wedding dress for Blanche DuBois in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Whether it’s a dress made from set pieces, a Swarovski-studded judicial robe or a gentle, yet independent, hummingbird that connects the two, freedom is fertilized in both art and fashion. This exhibition sets out to tackle many issues dealing with culture, religion, femininity and, above all, identity.
Take a cue from these powerful female creations: Instead of getting lost beneath clothing labels, it is important to not let the garment define you – only you can define you. Wear your art on your sleeve and let the world take you on a journey.
Art in Fashion opens September 7 at the Ben Ami Gallery12 Hahashmal Street in Tel Aviv.