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Fashion, textiles, performance and protest

Looking at American Dancer/Performer/Sculptor Artist Nick Cave it is really inspiring. He is best known for his “Soundsuits”, which are exciting wearable Textile pieces, almost sculptures that look whimsical, bright and other-wordly looking. He regularly performs in the sculptures himself, dancing either before the public or for the camera.

His sculptural clothes cover their wearers body with textiles made of a variety of materials like Sisal, plastic buttons, beads, wire, sequins, feathers, dyed human hair, synthetic fur, ceramic flowers, porcelain birds, crocheted blankets, furniture, voodoo dolls, animal figurines, toys … The suits are made from collected, recycled and regenerated objects found in antique shops and flea markets. The meaning of his pieces can change depending on their environment, the movement and dance of the wearer. The finished pieces bear some resemblance to African ceremonial costumes and masks. The clothes also reference carnival costumes, Dogon costumes and ball culture.

His suits are more often presented for public viewing as static sculptures, but also through live performance, video and photographs. Bringing his interactive creations to life. Cave’s community ‘performance labs’ utilise local musicians and dancers, including young people from underprivileged backgrounds. The suits provide protection by hiding a person’s visible signifiers of race, class and gender, but also create a collective, universal experience and make for a different way to be heard and protest.

Cave’s signature is his use of material to create surface. His work outside of his iconic soundsuits is predominantly mixed media sculptures and large-scale installations. Maintaining his signature style using found objects and bright coloured fabrics, Cave creates sculptural art that discusses current racial tensions, especially gun violence and it’s impact on Black men. One piece that talks directly about it is “TM 13”, a sculpture that responds to the life and death of Trayvon Martin. Martin was a young Black man shot to death by George Zimmerman in 2012. For no reason the first Black man to be shot due to racial profiling, Martin’s case gained national attention and became ingrained in the cultural discourse very quickly.
By focusing his pieces in this manner, the viewers of his artwork can “examine the history of trauma and racism and the objectification of the black male”.

I always have discussions and reflections with students about the meaning and story of their work. What is the concept behind your work? Why do you use specific materials, processes and techniques in your work? What is the context and purpose of it?
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Posted by author: Pere Bruach
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One thought on “Fashion, textiles, performance and protest

  • Really interesting article and I love Nick Cave’s soundsuits. I agree that they seem to connect to African ceremonial costumes. You can really see how Phyllis Galembo & Chika Okeke-Agulu’s photographs of the African Diaspora’s ceremonies, in their book Maske, chimes with these costumes. Equally, Charles Freger’s Wilder Mann series is trying to do something similar in a European tradition. What makes Cave different though, is the development of new ceremonies that involve a broader sense of participation. Very joyous work and I just want to try one on and dance about!

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