HISTORY OF PROTEST APPAREL

Workshop co-Organizer

Part of "the LA ROAD CONCERTS", 2016

NOVEMBER 18, 2016:

It is impossible to think of the streets of Downtown Los Angeles right now without thinking about protest. The roads are filled with passionate LA residents, speaking out through megaphones, T-shirts, signage, and the presence of their bodies on the street. Indeed, bodies have a long history as the site of political demonstration, and thus clothing (or the lack thereof) has its own history as a political tool. Perhaps it is because fashion often plays an instrumental role in re-affirming social norms that it is simultaneously such a useful vehicle for social change. Art historian Quentin Bell once wrote, "‘The history of dress is a history of protests."

A People's History Of Protest Apparel is an open workshop that will place protest-wear in the specific context of Downtown LA. We will play with and subvert traditional modes of history narration and museum display in order to examine the methods of demonstators who walked LA streets in the decades preceding the contemporary marches that fill them now. This idea of spacial memory is further underscored by our location at the California Millinery Supply Company - a hat and materials shop that has been in the same spot in Downtown LA since the 1930s. 

 

Over time, once provocative gestures often morph into pure aesthetics, removed from their original politicized meaning (a Che Guevara t-shirt sold merely as fashion or a pre-fabricated "hippie" Halloween costume in the bargain bin at CVS). However, 2016 saw several resurrections of historical protest apparel used to powerful effect, including Beyonce's visual tribute to the Black Panthers at the Super Bowl and voters dressed in "Suffragette white" to show support at the polls for Hillary Clinton's unprecedented presidential run.  Furthermore, new fashions remain continually linked to social action. In the wake of Trayvon Martin's tragic killing in 2012, for example, the hoodie - worn by Martin and mis-cited by some as "responsible" for his targeting -  became an important visual tool in protests over Martin's death and remains a powerful symbol in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

 

How and by whom clothing is made can also be a partisan stance, and we will be discussing the American Apparel factory in DTLA and its role in the "Made In LA" and "Legalize LA" movements. The workshop will also examine the use of apparel in a series of historical LA marches, including a 1920s Suffragette march down Broadway, the first Earth Day in 1970, a 1989 AIDS coalition march, and several anti-war protests, amongst others. 

 

Our goal is to present fashions from the past as jumping off points for participants to design their own protest-wear relevant to today. Just this past week, the safety pin emerged as a nationally-recognized, wearable response to rhetoric of bigotry and hate. Is such a gesture a meaningful creation of a safe place or simply an illusion of action? Is it both? How else can emotions of love, fear, anger and defiance be worn on the body?  

 

We will have basic tools available for illustrations, and will be documenting participant designs for an ongoing archive.

                                                                - Suzanne Joskow

[Workshop co-organized with artist/curator Henderson Blumer]

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